My issue is that I’m in my forties now—I’ve been officially Grown and Sexy for a while—and I need to start acting as if there is a future I need to prepare for. So now, I’ve set a strict budget for myself that I am trying to follow, and that includes not getting grown people numerous Christmas presents anymore, except my mother, of course. This year is too late—I already bought my gifts—but next year, I decided to tighten the belt.
When I talked to a couple of good friends of mine about this few-to-no-Christmas-presents policy, they got this tone to their voices as if I were a Cheap Colored Grinch Who Stole Negro Christmas. And it got me to thinking, why are we Black folks—poor, middle-class, and rich—so obsessed with spending money for just one day? Unless, of course, you actually celebrate Kwanzaa, which I don’t and I am not ashamed to say so.
Sidebar: There’s an actual reason–and it’s not that I’m bourgie and uppity– that I don’t celebrate Kwanzaa and that’s because my father was a Black nationalist who actually knew Ron Karenga, the founder of Kwanzaa (and that’s all I’m going to say).
Here you have the religious holiday of Christmas, which is supposed to celebrate the birthday of Jesus Christ but he wasn’t even born in December. Somebody just gave the man a random birthday. So that’s a little weird to me whenever people say, “Jesus is the reason for the season.”
And further, let me ask this: Why are people running around, putting charges on their credit cards in the middle of an economic recession/actual depression so they can celebrate Jesus, who was broke and rode a donkey?
So that’s where I stand politically and economically. Yet at the same time, I believe in buying my baby nephew, the children of my friends, and my mother a present. Here’s why: little kids who read books without words or even, books under three hundred pages are not going to understand the capitalist motivations behind Christmas, and that all we’re doing is making Wall Street rich while draining our bank accounts. They can’t understand all that.
I don’t believe in trying to break down a simplified version of Karl Marx to some little kids, okay, but my daddy the socialist Black poet did believe in reciting a Marx remix every Christmas; he didn’t get me and my sisters gifts. Only my mama gave us presents, aside from presents our relatives gave us.
My sisters and I used to call Daddy “The Grinch” behind his back. Also, “Oscar the Grouch.” Also, a myriad of taunting, rude nicknames around the holiday season and throughout the year. But only behind his back, I promise.
When I was a little girl, and I knew my daddy wouldn’t get me and my sisters Christmas gifts I would get so mad. I felt as if my father was selfish and cheap and that I should punish him by not getting him a gift, so that he could feel as mad and hurt as I did. But my mother would convince me to give him a gift. She would ask me, if I felt mad and hurt, why would I want someone else to feel that way, especially my daddy? And that, if I gave him a gift, it would me a better person, even if it might not make him one. And didn’t I want to be a better person?
She would tell me her own Christmas story and explain why, though she believed in getting her children gifts, she was in accord with my father that we shouldn’t believe in Santa Claus, though not for the same reasons.
When she was a little girl, growing up in poverty, she would pray that Santa Claus would notice her, all the way out in the country in Eatonton, Georgia. And she tried to be a good little girl. She was the oldest of six, so she would help her mother with the younger children, and with cooking the meals, along with the chores she had on the small farm they leased.
Yet every year all my mama ever received for Christmas was an orange, a handful of pecans and a peppermint stick. This is not an exaggeration, because I just talked to her a couple of days ago about this, and even though she is seventy-seven years old, the pain was still so fresh in her voice. And she told me she never understood how Santa Claus couldn’t see how so hard she had worked to be a good girl; he only seemed to notice how the rich little White children had been good.
Later, when she understood that there was no Santa Claus, Mama realized that those little gifts were all her parents could afford and that they had sacrificed to provide her and her brothers and sisters that little bit.
Every time my mama told this story, she brought me over to her philosophical side. I always ended up being ashamed and getting my daddy something nice with my Christmas money that my mother gave me so I could buy presents. I still would be mad as a wet bee at him, but still I got him something decent. And even though he didn’t believe in Christmas, he always loved his gifts. That used to blow my mind. (But that’s another blog post.)
And Mama always loved what I gave her, too. From the time of memory, not matter what I have given my mother—a construction paper gift when I was in elementary school, an antique brooch I found at a thrift shop in graduate school, a check when I won my first creative writing prize—anything—she has loved. When she opens up each gift, she makes an astonished, audible gasp and says, “Oh, this is beautiful! Thank you so much! You are so generous!” Yes, even the check was beautiful. I guess it was the paper it was printed on or something.
I do want to be better about saving money, because I don’t want to end up in my sixties broke and scared I can’t pay my mortgage. But I don’t ever want to be so selfish that I can’t or won’t give a gift to somebody.
For me, kindness is the reason for the season, and I guess that does go really back to Jesus.
Merry Christmas, y’all.