Friday, December 3, 2010

Ghosts of Christmas Past

Not too long ago Micah and I were having a discussion except it was more like me just telling him what Christmas' were like when we didn't have any money. I know for a fact he too has experienced Christmas where money was tight and his mom had to be creative with decorations and gifts but he has no memory of it.

I, however, have several memories of less than 12 years ago that are far more recent than his. So as we were discussing he commented about being poor at Christmas and was glad we didn't have to go through that and he's right, it's nice to be solidly middle class and have the option of CHOOSING to cut back for Christmas instead of HAVING to.

That said though, those Christmas' shaped who I am as a person and I think really taught me about doing with less. I thought I would share them with you for the next couple of days because they are not sad memories for me but rather happy ones. I think they explain a little about who I am as an adult as well.

The first Christmas after Brian and I were married we were living in a crappy ghetto apartment in Las Vegas. Our neighbors next to us and below us both did crack and the ones next to us routinely locked their children as young as 3 out of the apartment to wander around the property so they could get high. There was a shooting of another apartment dweller just a month after we had moved in because he had robbed the bank up the road and run back to his home while the police pursued him. Our carpet was officially the color "Burnt Orange" and we had leaks in the ceiling so bad that after one bad rainstorm the only thing holding the massive water from bursting forth in our bedroom were the layers 15 years worth of paint on the ceiling.

I worked at Citibank, the evening shift and Brian worked at Home Base which is/was a Home Depot wanna be. He also worked at night stocking. We both worked full time and bought in less than I alone make now. We couldn't afford daycare and we both worked a night shift but in an odd way so that Kylie was only without a parent around for about an hour and a half at night. One of our neighbors came over and sat on the couch and watched TV during this overlap time and we paid her $30 a week I think.

Our grocery budget, for 3 people was $75 bi-weekly. That means our monthly grocery budget was $150 and when we went grocery shopping it was with lists and a calculator. It was hard.

We lived in the same city as my father and stepmother and they offered us a string of lights and some old decorations for Christmas.

Brian scoured the newspaper ads on his lunch break at work and found us a 4ft tall Christmas tree at a drug store. It was around $30. Our parents from Alaska sent some decorations and stockings and I believe we bought another sting of lights as well.

We strung a set of lights on the tree (which was only slightly taller than Kylie at the time) and another set around the apartment. We hung stockings and Christmas cards on the wall. It certainly wasn't fancy. But once we had a few gifts under the tree it certainly felt like Christmas.

Because it was our first Christmas as a married couple AND we had a small child I think our families went a little overboard. It also could have been the size of the tree. In either case on Christmas morning only the top 4 inches plus the star (made of tinfoil) were visible above the stacks of gifts, most of them for Kylie as they should have been.

That year I remember I bought Brian a tool kit at a large department store and he bought me a sweater and skirt. Kylie got a pressed wood bookshelf from us. I think our total budget for gifts was $100 that year.

We had celebrated Christmas at my fathers house that year which was not a fun experience. At the time it felt like Kylie was the "bad" child while my niece, who was 7, was the golden child. Just prior to the gift giving one of my fathers former step children pulled me aside and informed me that he hadn't purchased any gifts for Kylie as he hadn't realized she was "so old". Then he turned around and gave another infant at the party a fancy package with toys in it. So it wasn't that he hadn't bought gifts for any babies, he just hadn't purchased anything for her.

Kylie was oblivious to any of my emotions that day and just reveled in the excitement and business of Christmas. Brian and I came together, united in our poverty and against my father's family which at the time felt horrific. I have never spent another holiday with them since.

Despite the lack of money that year we didn't FEEL poor though. We described it at the time as newly married. Newlyweds don't generally have a lot of money and we just chalked it up to that.

It's a happy Christmas memory, despite the total cost of it being less than $200.

It's not the cost of the holiday that makes it merry, it's how you view it and live it at the time.


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