I was standing in line at an outdoor kiosk, third in line and doing my best to social distance despite being outdoors with a mask on. A UPS delivery guy walks by, pushing a cart of packages to be delivered. He recognizes the man in line in front of me and they start to chat. From the snippets of conversation I picked up, they both are still working at their respective union jobs (“I’m still with local 488…” or something like that), presumably making a comfortable middle-class living.
Mr. UPS guy is 61 years old, has a full-time union job, but tells his friend he is working this extra job part-time to earn money for the holidays. He says he likes the exercise, and…well…he isn’t quite old enough yet to retire and get his pension. Does he really like it, or making the best of the situation?
It’s one of those anecdotes that is both sweet and sad. It’s touching he’s going the extra mile for the sake of his family. On the other hand, he is an senior citizen doing manual labor so that he can fulfill the consumer social contract of Christmas. It doesn’t matter how much you love your family, you have to go out and break your back to earn money so you can buy them them lots of gifts.
All I want for Christmas is to live in a world where Grandpa doesn’t have to work a second job to buy junk due to social norms that were invented by ad executives. The more we can normalize no-gift Christmases and other holiday events, the more we save people from feeling obligated to work more and spend in excess for no real good reason.
Time is our most precious and finite resource. Spend that time, not money, on your loved ones this holiday season. Don’t waste your dwindling years turning time into money to buy stuff people don’t need and usually don’t really want. Your presence is your present.