Dear Mrs. (Slightly) Sophisticated

photo by Matt Cornelius
photo by Matt Cornelius

Dear Mrs. (Slightly) Sophisticated

Every year during the holiday season, my mother-in-law reaches a frenzied state regarding gifts. From Black Friday shopping to Christmas morning, it is a nonstop race that makes us all forget the reason for the season. None of the rest of us care who bought the most expensive gifts or who spent more on decorations. Any way you can help me navigate this?

Thank you,
Miserable, not Merry

Dear Miserable, not Merry,

You are not alone in this epic battle. Here are a few examples I have found regarding this issue.

Black Friday: “I saw an elderly woman steal an ice cream maker from the cart of a man in an electric wheelchair.”

“Someone punched a security guard in the face because they thought he was a customer skipping to the front of the line. He was just walking in the door to start his shift.”

Christmas Day: “We traveled to my mother-in-law’s house for Christmas when my children were in elementary school. On Christmas morning, my mother-in-law went to visit another son’s children to watch them open gifts. She instructed us not to allow our children to open gifts until she returned home. Long story short, our seven- and nine-year-olds had to wait to open gifts until 3:00 in the afternoon.”

“My mother-in-law made such a big deal out of Christmas that she actually put herself in the hospital due to all the stress. Everything must be perfect: the presents, the decorations, and even the people. The best part is that she told all her friends that it was my fault because I had too many children. I have three. With her son. To whom I am married.”

What on earth is the deal with Black Friday anyway? What has happened to us as a society that we think standing in line at 1 a.m. on the Friday morning after Thanksgiving is a good idea? If your mother-in-law enjoys buying presents, tell her to buy gifts on her computer. Have we become a country of people who think fighting other people for a toaster oven is something we should do in order to celebrate the birth of Jesus? It’s a toaster oven!

I, personally, do not think that it is a war on Christmas. I think it is a war on my Thanksgiving evening that I want to spend by the fire eating leftovers. The holidays, beginning with Thanksgiving, are supposed to be about spending quality time with your family, including your extended family. When I am standing in line outside of a Target, I do not feel like socializing. I don’t want to be with my family or extended family in the middle of the night unless someone is sick. Let’s be honest, the thrill or the rush of excitement you get from Black Friday shopping has nothing to do with how your children or grandchildren enjoy the holiday season.

It is not meant to be a race. Most of us complain throughout the year about shopping, and many of us also complain any time we must face large groups of people. If you put these two together and throw in, buy one get one free candles, you have Black Friday. Why does this appeal to anyone?

Try to set the example in your immediate family that the goal is to spend as much time together as possible, to count your blessings, share with the less fortunate, and see the joys of Christmas. The only real race was the first one, and that was not to have a baby on a donkey.

These give us pointed examples of how people lose sight of what matters during the holidays. Some of these are extreme examples, but the main idea remains the same. Does it matter how many presents are under the tree? Who cares how much you spend on gifts for your children? No one. So, there is no reason to post on social media about how “blessed” they are by Santa Claus.

If you have begged family and friends for money all year long to help make ends meet, do not show off your professionally decorated home and Christmas tree.

If you don’t want to accept homemade/sentimental gifts from family members who do not have a lot of extra money, do not post your picture of the Christmas Eve church service with the caption, “Reason for the season.”

As for your situation, I suggest setting some boundaries and limiting your exposure. This may seem impossible right now, but give yourself some time to make baby steps. Tell your mother-in-law you and your family have a budget for gifts, and for decorating, and for any other reason you deem pertinent. It really is none of her business.

Stand up for yourself. One simple statement about how it does not matter how many presents are under the tree might set her aback. Float the idea of adopting a family for Christmas from a local organization. That would allow the whole family a new perspective on what Christmas really means.

If all of this does not work, then perhaps suggest taking a trip instead of celebrating Christmas at home. If she cannot fathom spending Christmas while on vacation somewhere amazing, go without her!

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