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Your Gift-Giving Preferences Are Probably Classist

'I tend to think these parents have more money than self-awareness'


Published on: December 13, 2017


When writing about the holidays, I am contractually obligated to acknowledge that I am in fact an elf. I Christmas shop all year, working off of a top-secret master list and several sub-lists, eventually constructing a toy mountain in my bedroom that I lovingly sort and re-sort with lavish glee.

Unfortunately, life requires me to leave my gift-empire home sometimes and enter a world buzzing with sanctimonious parenting. And what better opportunity to insert a needle-like proboscis of fun-sucking sanctimony than Christmas? My social media feeds crawl with parents and caregivers bemoaning the “meaningless” consumerism of Christmas and pontificating about how they want more for their children than terrible, horrible, no good, very bad toys made of (gasp) plastic.

Instead, their children will receive experiences, rich opportunities to explore the world and build memories — and, of course, a few obligatory baubles. These, however, will be items crafted by local artisans using ethically-sourced wood, humanely-raised alpaca wool and dust hand-collected from the wings of moths at the stroke of midnight. Most of all, they will inspire their children to appreciate superior holidays they don’t associate with gifts (like the not-at-all-problematic celebration of Thanksgiving).

Maybe they just really love wood (who doesn’t?), but I tend to think these parents have more money than self-awareness. They sincerely don’t recognize their publicly proffered opinions for what they are: classism.

They sincerely don’t recognize their publicly proffered opinions for what they are: classism

When you write off conventional toys as “plastic trash,” what you are really saying is that the Christmas most of us can afford to give our children is inferior, and that the time and money we spend to feed a bit of magic into their childhoods and provide them new tools for the work of playing is “crap.” Most families just can’t afford to fill their children’s coffers with sustainably harvested beeswax and silk gathered from garden spiders on a dewy summer morning — even if those things sound lovely.

And those experiences? Those require much more financial flexibility than a single purchase. Day trips require access to resources like vacation time or flexible scheduling or, you know, weekends. And, even with entrance fees covered, one trip to the zoo easily blows my entire week’s fun-with-the-kids budget on gas and parking — before we even enter the gate.

In truth, this sanctimonious Scrooge-ing isn't unlike its cousin, Black Friday shaming. Lots of people — perhaps even one-third of the population —  don’t use bank accounts, largely because they can’t afford them. For these parents, deep discounts and cash transactions are a big deal. A trending video game that was 40 percent off on the Day of Great Shame clocks in at just under one day’s take-home pay for a minimum wage earner; that same item at full price exceeds the earnings from a full day of work. People whose finances look different from yours still like to give gifts to their children, and shaming them for what or how they buy is the artisanal bread and grass-fed butter of classism.

People whose finances look different from yours still like to give gifts to their children

This sanctimony rankles on an entirely personal level, too. I’m mostly apathetic about the concept of love languages, but it’s obvious I’m a gift giver. Hunting all year for Christmas presents brings me joy and I can list childhood gifts that I loved so much that their memory still conjures a shadow of glee. I can’t listen to Kenny Rogers’ holiday ballad about poverty in Kentucky without wanting to rend my garments, jump into the song and get little Linda the damn dolly.

Denigrating gifts as if they are a meaningless outgrowth of consumerism diminishes a swath of people who offer and receive love that way. Wouldn’t it be odd if I were to publicly rant about how holidays that focus on hugging or kind words ruin children and the meaning of holidays? What if took to social media to shame parents who enjoy acts of service with their children?

At the end of the day, presents are meant to be fun. Hoping for things and anticipating things and searching for things that you know will thrill someone is fun. If that sort of thing doesn’t stoke a tiny crackling fireplace in your soul and hygge your heart like a blanket made of purring kittens dipped in hot cocoa ... that’s okay. But let other people enjoy things — even if, especially if, their lives are different from yours.

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