Brian Keaney

Tag: Christmas

Every kid deserves a Christmas

I love Christmas.  I love everything about it.  I love the decorations, the presents, the music, the parties, the food – everything.  I love that at over 9 feet tall, this is the smallest tree my roommate and I have ever set up in our apartment.

I even once got into an argument with a nun, who also was my professor, on the first day of class because I told her that I wished I still believed in Santa Claus.  I still want to believe that there is jolly old elf with magic reindeer who, just because he likes to see the smiles on little kids’ faces, travels all over the world one night a year delivering toys and delighting children.

Santa and one ecstatic little girl.

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Only 10 shopping months until Christmas

I don’t like being known as the oldest of all my cousins.  I much prefer to be known, and I think it is universally accepted that I am, as the biggest kid.  If I’m not directly responsible for the vast majority of the screaming, yelling, laughing, and horsing around, you can bet that I am at least involved in it.

For Christmas I picked up a present my great-aunt was giving to my youngest cousin, who is also usually responsible for most of the ruckus taking place.  It was a remote controlled helicopter, but it came with a note from Santa Claus.  The little one was not allowed to even unwrap the present unless he agreed to a few conditions.

The first was that I got to play with it whenever I wanted.  It was also stipulated that he had to bring it on vacation with him in the summer, so that I could play with it whenever I want.  If he didn’t agree to these terms then Santa was going to send an elf down from the North Pole to take it away from him and give it to me.

I should have held out for more.  After viewing this video, an 18 inch helicopter doesn’t seem nearly as cool anymore.

Santa, if you are reading this, next year I want a fighter jet for Christmas.  And, since those guys got a scale model, I want a real one.  I don’t think that is too much to ask.

’tis the giver, not the gift, that counts

My freshman year of college I walked off the plane for Christmas break wearing a grey sweatshirt bearing the name of my university.  A few days later, on Christmas morning, I opened up a box from my parents containing the exact same sweatshirt.  On the day after Christmas this year I remarked to my mother that if Grandma ever gave me anything besides a sweatshirt that I would probably drop dead of a heart attack.  I can’t remember the last time she gave me something else.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m very appreciative of the gift, and as I listen to the wind howl outside as  I write this I am keenly aware of those who would love an extra sweatshirt right now.  However, I don’t wear sweatshirts – or any shirt with long sleeves – all that often, and certainly not if I can help it.

I still have that same grey sweatshirt I bought 10 years ago.  It’s quite stained now, and the sleeves are showing some wear, but it’s still really the only sweatshirt I wear.  It suits my purposes just fine, and truth be told I still like it quite a bit.

It thus resonated with me when I read of Joel Waldfogel’s new book, Scroogenomics: Why You Shouldn’t Buy Presents for the Holidays.  Waldfogel, of the Wharton School, talked about the deadweight loss of Christmas gifts.  Say the sweatshirt I got cost my grandmother $50.  If she had just given me $50 I would have gone out and spent it on something I would have enjoyed quite a bit more.  Chances are I would have gotten a full $50 worth of enjoyment out of the item I chose myself, but I won’t get it from a sweatshirt that will sit in my closet.

Still, something just didn’t seem quite right with his analysis.  The old saying goes that it’s the thought that counts, and I think there’s quite a bit to that, so I was pleased to read In Defense of Holdiday Gift-Giving this morning.

To make any sense of holiday gift-giving, we must move away from a thinking of the items as mere transfers of wealth or property. That isn’t their point. Gifts are better understood with the tools of signaling theory: the branch of economics, pioneered by the Nobel laureate A. Michael Spence, that explains the use of costly actions to provide information.  …

Mr. Waldfogel’s negative view of holiday gift-giving is essentially a Yule-tide version of the Spence signaling model. We all want to convince others that we like or love them. Presents are a signal of affection, and if we didn’t give them, we are thought to either be uncaring or ill-mannered. As a result, society engages in a lot of wasteful holiday spending.

Signaling has many virtues, and it is hard to think of anything more valuable than showing affection for others. In the schooling context, signals allow the matching of people to jobs. In the context of gift-giving, providing presents increases the welfare of others by giving them the sense that they are loved.

I appreciate the gift my grandparents got me not because I really wanted a sweatshirt, but because of all the thousands of styles of sweatshirts out there, my grandmother took the time to pick out one that she thought I would like.  It was the sentiment behind the gift that matters most to me.  As my great-mother was known to say, ’tis the giver, not the gift, that counts.  For without the giver there wouldn’t be a gift at all.

As it so happens, I actually like the sweatshirt I got this year, but that isn’t always the case.  As Economix had to say this morning,

Gifts from uncles and grandparents were valued less than gifts from parents, which was compatible with the view that knowledge of tastes declined with social distance.

Glasaer is speaking of economic value here, not sentimental value, but it matches up to my experience.   The one time my parents bought me a sweatshirt as an adult, it was one that I liked so much that I purchased it for myself.  I would have been thrilled if my grandparents bought me one with my alma mater’s name on it, but I guess that’s really a lot of social distance.

O, Christmas Tree

I’m known for many things, not all of which I’m proud of and many of which I’m not so foolish as to put here online.  However, this morning, I couldn’t have been happier that my reputation preceded me.

Today I finally bought my Christmas tree, a week later than I normally would have.  I wanted to buy from the Dedham Community House again this year for two reasons.  For one thing, they are only two blocks from my place, so getting it back is cake.  More importantly, I wanted to support an organization that does some great work in my hometown.

I could go to a big megastore, but why send my money to stockholders in other states and countries when I can keep it here doing good work for my friends and neighbors?  Although it is only slightly further from me than the Community House, I am boycotting Lowe’s once againuntil after Christmas.  Not that I spend a lot of moeny there anyway, but it is ridiculous when they start putting Christmas items out a month before Halloween.  As Suldog reminds us each year, Thanksgiving comes first!

In any case, the Community House only sells on Saturday and Sunday, and I thought they were worth waiting a few extra days for since I couldn’t get there last weekend.  When I walked up this morning I immediately heard someone call out my name.  I turned around, and the director was asking if I was back to buy the biggest tree on the lot again.  I assured her I was, and asked where I could find it.

There were two early contenders, but in the end it was easy to choose the right one.  It’s nine feet tall, and has a terrific shape.  There was another tree that looked slightly bigger, but the shape wasn’t nearly as good.   I don’t get too particular about too many things, but when it comes to Christmas trees I am a complete snob.

Not to ruin this with a complaint, but I left off on a rather disappointing note.  As we parted ways a volunteer wished me a happy holiday.  I know people use this expression to avoid offending anyone, but for Pete’s sake I just bought a Christmas tree.  It should be pretty clear by now that I celebrate Christmas!  I think it would have been safe to wish me a Merry Christmas.

As I was bringing in my tree I put the radio on to listen to Christmas music.  The first song that came on was Adam Sandler’s “The Chanukah Song, Part II.”  Granted it’s meant to be funny, but I still took no offense at it.  Maybe that’s easy for me to say, being in the majority and all.  After all, Sandler wrote his series of songs for those kids who feel like they are the only ones in town without a Christmas tree.

However, I spent a year in Honolulu where I was an ethnic minority.  There really wasn’t a majority, but we hoales were not even a plurality.  One of the great things about that city was all the street festivals they threw.  It seemed like once a month they were blocking off streets to throw a party.  I marched in the Martin Luther King Day parade and had a blast at a Chinese New Year party.  I wasn’t offended by anyone else’s celebration, and no one was offended when I wished them a happy St. Patrick’s Day.

As I said, I wasn’t going to mention his comment as I’m sure he didn’t mean to upset anyone by it.  However, I just read about a city councilman in North Carolina whose election is being challenged because he is an atheist.

When Mr. Bothwell was sworn into office on Monday, he used an alternate oath that does not require officials to swear on a Bible or refer to “Almighty God.”

That has riled conservative advocates, who cite a little-noticed quirk in North Carolina’s Constitution that disqualifies officeholders “who shall deny the being of Almighty God.” The provision was included when the document was drafted in 1868 and was not revised when North Carolina amended its Constitution in 1971.

The vast majority of people celebrate this holy day, and only a very small percentage don’t.  Even if you don’t, the sentiment behind the greeting should be evidence enough of the goodwill towards men they intend to impart.  I’ve always wondered what those who don’t celebrate any holiday at this part of the year feel when they are greeted with “happy holidays.”  Do they get offended?  Should we instead be wishing each other “non-denominational, politically-correct, seasonal tidings of winter cheer?”  Somehow that just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

And, not for nothing, but have the good people of Ashville, N.C. not heard of the “no religious test” clause of the Constitution?  I don’t care if he Decks the Halls or spins the dradle with Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock, or doesn’t observe any religious occurrences at all (curiously, the atheist councilman not only celebrates Christmas but also attends a church).  I would much rather have an atheist who is right on the issues in office than a fellow Christian who is wrong on them.

Anyway, my tree is up, my apartment smells fantastic, and I’m looking forward to the rest of the season.  Merry Christmas, and God bless us, every one!