I pulled out one of my favorite Christmas traditions a week or so ago, so now whenever I get the chance, I've begun working my way through a 60-episode collection of Christmas old-time radio episodes. I guess that I'm old enough to I forget most of the plots between Christmases, and the ones I do remember I still enjoy. I've been reminded of something that I noticed for the first time last year--the American culture of the 1940s regarding gift-giving.
In numerous episodes, people are shopping for Christmas gifts, but the things that they are buying for each other surprise me. Not specific to one show, but throughout a variety of programs, the adults are buying gifts for each other like neckties, handkerchiefs, pens, and even cigarettes. The presents are more like little remembrances--thoughts--than gifts. (There are even commercials recommending soap as a gift, with which I heartily concur, but not the Lux and Ivory varieties that they promote....) Yes, some of these shows were written during World War II, but the characters don't lament over their meager Christmas gifts, so it seems to me that they weren't all that unusual.
In an episode I listened to today, Molly reminds Fibber McGee of his plan to do his Christmas shopping early that year, to avoid the last-minute crowds. The date that they considered "early?" December 10th. Nowadays, I would consider October to be early Christmas shopping, but I know people that do their Christmas shopping all year long, just to avoid the stress of the season. How stress-free would your holiday season be if your gifts were small tokens that symbolized your friendships, not just obligations of them?
It leads me to think that our materialistic culture has, once again, lost the true meaning of a tradition and turned a simple, kind gesture into a mandatory, out-do the other guy, pressure-filled activity, overflowing with commercialism. And as a result, more often that not it is no longer the thought that counts. It's always hard to be the one that bucks the trend, and doesn't try to be bigger and better (or at least not be woefully outdone), but I think we'd all secretly be relieved to experience a little holiday simplicity for a change.