“Welcome to the Eastern Iowa Airport,” a big-brother-like loudspeaker exclaimed. Then that generic male voice droned on about watching your bags and reporting suspicious activity. Despite the boring interjection that repeated unnervingly in my ear for about 6 hours (I was a wee bit early), I knew I was flying home for the holidays — that’s all that mattered.
The quaint, small-town airport was filled with Christmas trees and holiday garb. Personally, I loved the colors and lights. People tended to be cheerier and friendlier — saying “happy holidays” and “merry christmas” in the place of “what the heck are you doing blocking my way to ‘Zone 2’ of this aircraft?”
Airports are the perfect place to people-watch — holidays amplify the eccentricity! A woman wearing a pink jumpsuit walked by with bells on her feet — each step providing jingles to everyone around her (whether they wanted it or not). A big-bellied man yelled and paced around the hallways, which made me wonder if this person needed a psychological intervention. His frustrations and screams were broadcast across the terminal. Then, I got a glimpse of his microscopic earpiece. My mind settled on him being “sane, but needing a cease and desist order.”
In between auditory assaults, I sought respite in a book about “vandwelling” and paying for graduate school on a shoestring budget. My phone grabbed at me to answer various travel plans and requests. When I put down the visual stimuli, reading material, and the fellow travelers quieted, my mind raced and face flushed for embarrassment: I hadn’t purchased a single present for my family.
I filled with dread, and puzzled how I’d fix this apparent problem. I realized I had no idea what people wanted, anyways. I’m away from family at large stretches of time, and there’s nothing that can supplement regularly seeing people in person. Frankly, I felt out of the loop.
The last couple years, I’ve been a sorry contributor to colors under the tree. While my family understands my small bank account (net worth: ~$500), and I recognize that I hate the consumer/consumption focus of the holidays, I’m still affected by the expectations of gift-giving. I want to provide happiness and laughter to those around me — to be liked and care for others. I want to see glistening eyes — appreciative because I got something that speaks to their passion, interest, and love.
When I finally arrived at my parents house, I asked my mom what I should get everyone. I confessed that I hadn’t purchased anything, and she nearly interrupted me before I could finish the sentence. “Oh, we are in the same boat, it’s going to be a small Christmas. I have no idea what to get anybody either,” she said.
I smiled at the irony of the holiday. If you looked in the newspaper, watched television, and/or surfed the web (sans ad blocker) — without knowing the true meaning of the holidays — you’d think it was merely another sale season where capitalistic pressures stress consumption for self and others. We know Macy’s, Nordstrom, and Dillard’s all have sales. We know Claus-laden Christmas cards of red and green will occupy the aisles of grocery stores.
As humans affected by these messages, my mother and I were both feeling the strain of not knowing what to get everyone, but also feeling compelled to do so. Frankly, it felt stupid that we were bucking the internal messages (buy less) for the external scripts (buy endlessly), which are nearly built-in now.
My favorite Christmas memory was not the year that I unwrapped a remote-control car. My favorite Christmas memory was not the packs of baseball cards I’d requested. My favorite Christmas memory was not the cast-iron skillet, which I have yet to understand how to use (sorry, mom!). No, at the heart of Christmas and my current state of happiness is that I’m home and around family. I’m too happy about what I currently have to care about meeting the demands of our conspicuous economy.
Now, watch this ridiculous video and have a wonderful holiday!