So This Is Christmas…

So this is Christmas,  and what have you done, another year over, a new one just begun. And so this is Christmas, I hope you have fun, the near and the dear ones, the old and the young.

A very merry Christmas and a happy New Year. Let’s hope it’s a good one, without any fears.

Happy Xmas (War Is Over) – John Lennon/ Yoko Ono 1971

Christmas music starts on the radio in November, and pretty much continues to the end of the year. It can be enough to drive you insane.

But, along with any Christmas tune by Frank and Dino, the Lennon/Ono collaboration that became Happy Xmas is one of those Christmas songs that I could listen to repeatedly without getting sick of it.

It’s just a shame that its message is as relevant today as it was in 1971. A world without war to celebrate Christmas during our lifetimes? Not likely.

Photo by Gabrielle DeGiorgio

Post-Christmas, some other thoughts running around in my head:

I’m torn about gifts – While I think that my kids (and my wife and I) got far too many gifts again this year, fighting it may not be fair, and is probably a lost cause anyway. It’s a perfect right of their grandparents to spoil them as they see fit. So they get multitudes of gifts.

I’ll probably do the same thing when I’m a grandfather. I can’t bitch about the gift giving methods of anyone else when I know future Joe could be just as guilty.

As much as I like to complain about the lack of spirituality around the Christmas holiday, there wasn’t a seat to be had at the church where I attended Mass. In fact, there wasn’t much standing room, either. Elbow to elbow.

The fact that the church was packed reminded me of Christmas celebrations in past years, when I attended Mass with my grandparents and other family members. In the days when going to church was an essential activity in late December. That’s old school stuff that has a place here in 2011.

Next week, there will be plenty of available space. Next week, I’ll be able to sit if I want to.

Avoiding advertising is nearly impossible – The ramping up of ads proclaiming the latest and greatest discounts for Christmas sales is more intense than ever. To avoid it altogether is a tall order that’s hard to achieve. Materialism is front and center and it all reeks of receive, receive, receive. If you can get through the entire season without being tempted to spend more money than you actually have, congratulations.

And on that note…

The American economy is far too dependent on holiday shopping – A large part of our economy is based on consumer spending. What a house of cards. I can understand the fortunes of a retail chain bouncing up and down with the sales numbers, but…

Consumer confidence?

The stock market?

Crazy stuff. Thankfully, the average consumer was more than willing to put themselves into hock this holiday season to help out the economy. It was said that Americans were suffering from “frugal fatigue”, and their inclination was to spend their way out of it, to make themselves feel better.

Ho ho ho…

Like this article? There’s more on the way! You can get free updates to content at this site by subscribing by email or feed reader.

Running Out Of Time? Try This Brilliant Christmas Shopping Idea

It’s getting close to crunch time. If you haven’t gotten your remaining holiday gifts for the people you buy for, you’re running out of days and minutes.

For many, panic mode is soon to set in.

My wife was feeling the pressure. With the nephews and other relatives still on the list, I saw her mind starting to race, and her actions becoming harried. I’ve already had to tell her to go slower.

Women especially feel obligated to purchase gifts for everyone, as an expression of love. Even though most of us have everything we need, the ladies (and a lot of men) have hit the malls in record numbers.

I am of the opinion that if you’re becoming short on time, maybe gift cards are your solution. But my wife won’t have it. “What seven year old wants to open a gift card?”

She’s right about that.

But, what seven year old (or person of any age) would not like to open an envelope with some cold, hard cash in it?

If you’ve read this far, some of you may be thinking, “What an unthoughtful gift!” And to that I say, keep an open mind. When I was younger, I was privy to the Christmas shopping genius that was my Grandmother.

Her shopping method? Order her grandson to get in his car, and take a trip downtown to the bank. When there, grab a couple dozen fancy bank Christmas envelopes, go to the teller, and make a withdrawal of varied denominations of dead presidents.

Boom. Christmas shopping completed.

Now, while it may not seem thoughtful to you to give cash gifts I, like Jimmy Fallon, can’t think of anyone who doesn’t like money. Aside from the fact that practically no one will say “You gave me money??” with a disdainful look on their face, there are other advantages to the glorious gift of cash:

There is no stress involved – The process for cash gifts is one stop shopping. The bank is your store, and the teller your retail clerk. “Can I help you?” “Why, yes, I’d like a pound of twenties, please.” And you’re done. No running from store to store. No jostling with others to be first in line.

And no pepper spray. Easy breezy.

You take away the possibility of overspending – At the bank, you can’t buy another toy other than what was on your list, and there’s no sneaking a little something for yourself there, while you’re buying for others. Even if you really deserve it.

If you’re gift giving budget is $300 or $500, there’s no overspending. That’s what you get.

You can focus on family and fun – Gram had no time to go to stores, unless it was to the import store for cheese and mortadella (I drove there, also). She had people to make happy, and mountains of food to prep and cook. And she had to go to church, too. Because that’s what the holiday is about anyway.

You help the economy! – Yes, you do help the economy when you shop at Macy’s or J.C. Penney’s. I’m aware of that. But why not help the economy and your mental state? Instead of going on expeditions through shopping mall jungles looking for hidden treasure, admit to yourself that cash is the perfect gift! It’s a win win! The economy gets a little boost, and you don’t feel like strangling your fellow shoppers!

My Grandmother handed out envelopes like she was the Queen handing out royal appointments. She gave gifts to her favorite people, and every single one of them appreciated the gesture. She would be met every once in a while by an “Oh, you shouldn’t have!”, but every gift was accepted.

I even tried to tell her on a couple of occasions, “Gram, I don’t want your money. You do enough for me.” Remember, I ate meals at her house 300 days out of the year. Or more.

“Oh, come on!!” was the response I would hear. And my hand would extend to take the envelope.

This week, don’t wrack your brain trying to buy yet another gift. Use a gift from an old Sicilian lady instead. Stick a greenback in an envelope, relax, and enjoy the sights, sounds, food, and events of the holiday with those people closest to you. That’s the true spirit of Christmas…

Buon Natale!

Not So Smart About Smart Phones

Presently, I don’t have a cell phone. That’s right, no cell phone. When I look around at my little world when I’m out and about, I feel like the only person without one. When people find out I don’t have a cell phone, they stare at me with that quizzical look as if to say “How do you get along without one?” Or the less likely “No cell phone? What…are you homeless?”

I get along just fine without a mobile phone. I work in an office, and there’s a phone right next to me on my desk. There’s a landline in my house when I get home from work. My wife has a cell phone, and my daughter does as well. I will, at times, use my wife’s phone to communicate. You can text on it very easily, and you can also make a call and actually talk to someone.

I’m currently convinced there is a wealth of phone power always within my general vicinity. Why be redundant and add one more?

I was sitting with a friend recently who was showing me the wide range of things his phone could do for him. He has a new breed of SmartPhone that could instantly grab some NCAA basketball scores, look at the weather report, update his Facebook status, and play some on-line games. I was thoroughly confused.

As I’ve stated before, I love some forms of technology and how much easier they can make our lives. My wife and I just joined the flat screen TV revolution, and we’re very happy we’ve been finally able to join this exclusive club. Of course, we had to join because our current television had finally kicked the bucket. It was a wedding gift from my sister and my brother in law, meaning it was just about 18 years old. I think that’s much older in “TV years”, however.

As I enjoy baseball and basketball games in all their high definition brilliance with our new television, and my appreciation of all things new increases, I have to ask myself: Well, what do you think? How about getting a cell phone?

I just can’t pull that trigger. I do love talking to people, and I love new toys as well. But for me, a cell phone is akin to a colossal waste of my dollars. I know I could probably use such a phone in an emergency situation…but everybody else has a cell phone. And I’m a sociable and brazen individual at times.

If my car ever breaks down, the conversation could go like this:

“Hey buddy…can I borrow your phone?”

That’s not all there is to it. Phones aren’t just phones now, they are status symbols. If you’re caught outside of your residence without the right phone…well, what’s a neighbor to say? What, no IPhone? No Android? You just make calls from your phone? Really? That question would come up again. How do you get along without one?

You know the answer. Just fine, thank you.

Kids, just remember: The “Old School” principles aren’t just about paying homage to the previous generations. No, it’s also about realizing what’s necessary in your life, focusing on that, and doing away with (or not even bothering with) the rest of the crap that everybody else is doing.

I’m Not Anti-Materialism; But Why Don’t You Save The Economy?

Since this economy started tanking, there has been a sudden rush to a different lifestyle for some Americans. People are spending less money, trying to live a little less complicated, maybe re-setting some priorities. Saving money, as well.

I have to admit, seeing the mad scramble to a simple life makes me smile, at times even chuckle. This new breed of American consumer is now trying to adopt a life and financial style that I have been fortunate to observe most of my years: it was the normal way the majority of my older family members operated their entire lives.

I could just spotlight on my grandparents in this post. But it wasn’t just my Nonna and my Pop that lived the so-called frugal lifestyle. Nope, it was also their brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles, and friends. Every one of them, with maybe one or two exceptions, was financially responsible and focused on their relationships and experiences rather than material goods, while chasing the good life here in the USA.

Fellow blogger Vince Scordo published a wonderful article detailing how Italian American immigrants used methods other than material things to feel an element of wealth in their lives . Like his examples, many of my relatives and friends found their luxuries in the food they prepared, ate, and shared with others.

My grandparents always worked hard enough to afford themselves some of the finer things in life. But things like clothes, cars, gadgets, or dinners outside the home were never high on their priority list. They were more interested in their work, family, and their home. Oh yeah, and the food.

My family’s food was and is central to their existence. Always high quality, home made, and eaten with the people we loved. Some of my fondest memories of time spent with my grandmother (and more recently, my great aunt) were helping to prepare meals, eating them, having a glass of wine, and when I wasn’t helping, I was observing .

At the other end of the spectrum, I know people outside of my family circle that own big houses, multiple vehicles, have ample sums of money, and they eat fast food because of the illusion that it’s quick and cheap. That’s where they prefer to save their money. On the food they put into their bodies.

Can that possibly be the new definition of  insanity?

As for myself, in this day and age, there are a lot more temptations to spend now than say, twenty years ago. Who hasn’t at one time or another, desired the high end Blackberry or a 50 inch LCD flat panel?

We all do. But things are not usually high on my priority list. Unless they are related to a kitchen remodel, but that’s for another post. I’ll take some grief occasionally for not having a cell phone, driving a Cadillac that can only be described as vintage, or for still enjoying a 27 inch television that we got for a wedding gift so long ago.

I simply don’t care about a lot of this stuff. I’m apathetic. I’d rather spend my time doing, and thinking about, other aspects of my life. The food is one of them. When my wife and I prepare a meal together, and then sit down to eat with our kids—I really believe I am partaking in one of life’s true luxuries.

These days, a lot of Americans seem to agree with this way of thinking. But will this new way of perceiving the lifestyle stay entrenched in our culture?

I don’t think so. When the economy is back in high gear, people will become less fearful—and go back to their credit card slingin’, high spending ways. And you go right ahead. Our economy is built on consumer spending, and it needs that spending to save it. So do your best.

But, I will leave it to you to save our economy. I will continue on my path, the same path I learned from my grandmother for so many years. Not the one that goes to the stores, the coffee shops, and the car dealers. This path leads into your home, your family, your friends, and your beliefs.

When I was younger, there was often a large party of people in my grandparents’ cellar helping my Nonna clean and cook bushels upon bushels of tomatoes for home canning purposes.

I didn’t know it then, but I now know that I was watching the good life in action. No accessories required.