Annual Christmas Present Panic: Balancing Thoughtful Gifts with My Budget

On November 1st I felt the annual panic. Lighted wreaths appeared on the telephone polls outside the wine shop. Target’s Christmas light selection appeared behind the newly discounted candy. We are moments away from hearing the Nutcracker theme on the speakers in every mall, post office and dentist office.

What does this all mean? As a overly zealous planner, it means I need to know what I’m doing for Christmas gifts. Every year I try to balance three key issues:

  1. The Budget- I don’t have a large budget for Christmas gifts, but I love elaborate gifts. There is no logical reason for this but I am always concerned about my gift “not being enough”. Nor can I resist purchasing “the perfect gift” when I come across it.
  2. Homemade- Trying to keep my budget low goes hand in hand with making homemade gifts. The problem with homemade gifts is unless you’re especially gifted (get it?!) you may find that yourself staying up late at night working on overly intricate hand-embroidered items or making gifts that you’re not sure anyone actually wants.
  3. Materialism- Why are we stressing ourselves out over gifts when there are so many people who don’t have anything? Do you actually need anything this Christmas? Are the gifts you’re giving contributing to the closets of the one you love or are they things they will appreciate? There is so much excess in our country. I don’t have any desire to contribute to it more than I already do.

I truly love to give gifts. I don’t always succeed in giving personal, thoughtful gifts but I always try and I like the process. None of this would bother me if I didn’t.

This year (as I do every year) I’ll be doing my best to only give homemade/handmade, local gifts or immaterial gifts. We’ll see if I can do it! I’ll be sharing ideas for you to do the same if it appeals to you. Here’s last year’s Christmas gifts if you need some ideas to get you started!

Christmas Homesickness

I think everyone who moves away from their hometown probably experiences a little bit of homesickness for the traditions and culture they grew up with in the holiday season. I am no exception. If I was in Winston-Salem right now, it wouldn’t be much colder but we could at least talk about the possibility of snow. Keeping with the Moravian traditions of our town’s founders (well, Salem’s founders not Winston’s), every night I would see windows lit, each with a single candle. Many a front stoop would be decorated with a lit Moravian star.

moravian decor

In case you’re unfamiliar (and most people are) Salem was built back in the day (think bonnets) by members of the Moravian Church (a Protestant sect of Christianity). Many of today’s residents of Winston-Salem are also members of the Moravian church. I am not nor did I grow up in the Moravian church but I was lucky enough (as most Winston children are) to be exposed to their traditions and culture in my childhood. There was normally an annual field trip to Old Salem to visit the original, still used town site. I went to day camp at Five Yesterdays, which taught children about what it would be like to live in Salem at that time. (I was sold until I understood what it would mean to wear all those layers of clothes on a hot summer day. I’ll keep my shorts and air conditioning, thank you.)

old salem







Throughout the year, we would learn bits and pieces about Salem history. In the fall, we’d take a walk through God’s Acre. In the summer we’d celebrate the Fourth of July at the town square. But at Christmas, signs of Moravian traditions were everywhere. Not only were the Moravian decorations commonplace for many town residents, but also going to a Candletea or a Lovefeast. In my parents’ house a Christmas never passed without a sugar cake in the morning, Lovefeast bun sandwiches with the leftover turkey, and a long discussion about why Moravian coffee is so delicious. Moravian chicken pot pies for dinner and ginger spice cookies for dessert… and snack… and breakfast… and again. Actually, I really like the sugar ones too so I’ll need some of those. Waiting in line at Dewey’s Bakery is a requirement for the holiday season.

If I was in Winston now I’d be trying to decide if the line for Tanglewood’s Festival of Lights was worth it. I’d be creating complicated ways to avoid driving on Stratford or Silas Creek Parkway for the next three weeks. I’d be trying to convince myself that only one sugar cake was really necessary although I want three or four.








With much regret, I will not be visiting good ol’ Winston for the holidays this year. Don’t worry though! I’ll be placing my order for Dewey’s goodies with my parents soon enough. Better bring an extra suitcase….

Thank You

Sometimes it takes a little distance to get some perspective on a situation. Maybe even a few hundred miles… or so. Nothing is ideal right now. I’m still unemployed. I don’t have many friends. I still get lost every time I drive in Austin. (What’s with all the damn highways? How many can you possibly need?) I’m subletting in a house where I cleaned dry vomit off the walls when I first moved in. That’s a new low for me.

Right now I’m in Pittsburgh at my sister’s house where when I walk outside the wind cuts right through my brand new Christmas jacket. There are small children (who I love) everywhere underfoot, wanting, not satisfied, complaining and at all the same times instantly switching from being terrors to delights with little dimples and toys galore. I sleep on a love seat sofa until 6 am when I’m moved to a new location so little children can play there.

I’m surrounded by the people I love.

And even though my back hurts from sleeping on a beautiful although not super comfortable piece of living room furniture and I am tired of watching movies rated G and discussing what different dolls might like to do today, it is wonderful and good. My mother is making us another cup of tea (one more hour and we can switch to wine) and my sister is asking me to explain her new computer to her (what is better than to feel needed?) and a sweet blond-headed little thing would like me to read her a book and sit on my lap.

Bad things do not happen in threes. I caused a small accident in a parking lot before I started home for the holidays and the stress of it keeps me up at night  but I am reminded that good people exist everywhere and that I should be thankful for every encounter I have with one of these such people.

Thank you to the man at the Apple store in Pittsburgh who replaced my phone for free and was kind and courteous.

Thank you to my mother who does not mind when I call her fifteen times a day worrying about small things I should be able to figure out on my own. And if you do mind, thanks for never saying so.

Thanks to my father who is always generous.

Thanks to my sister for still wanting to run around the house and fight like when I was little and for always rolling your eyes at Mom at the same time I do. Thanks for the little nieces who always run to meet me and throw their tiny arms around my neck and think my real name is Aunt Kacky.

And thank you to the friends around the US and around the world who always manage to stay in touch and send me unexpected reminders that I am being thought of, that I matter to someone, that I have not been forgotten.

Just a little reminder, I’m thinking of you too.