To make holiday season meaningful, stop shopping

By DAVID MOON, Moon Capital Management
December 22, 2002

The recent trend for people to buy these huge, lighted inflatable Christmas characters reminds me of my childhood days living in a trailer in Alabama. These things are tacky. They belong in a Chevy Chase movie, not in my neighborhood. Every night, as I drive home, I pass a ten foot tall inflated snowman, fully lit and visible from downtown and passing airplanes on a clear night. It is childish and ugly.

And I love it. I put it there. It's my yard. You can take the boy out of Alabama'

We do a lot of weird things this time of year. When else would you encourage your kids to go sit in some strange fat man's lap, accept candy, then take a picture to memorialize the event?

I have another weird suggestion. Quit shopping.

If you have people remaining on your shopping list you do not love dearly, just skip them this year. Anything you do for them is probably hypocritical. They probably don't like you either and will appreciate not having to buy you anything next year.

If you are too busy to shop, you probably don't spend enough time with the people you love. Go spend the rest of today with them. Drive around town visiting; get on the phone; have a long, spontaneous lunch with someone - don't spend the precious few hours before Wednesday in the mall buying some last-minute obligatory crap. Touch someone's life in a way that may influence them forever. If you give them a part of yourself, you will forever live in them and in every life they touch.

Long-time Knoxville lawyer Foster Arnett, Sr. died a few weeks ago. In a note to me, his son observed that his father continued to live in his own life. What the note did not say, however, is that Mr. Arnett continues to live in many more lives than just those of his children. He lives in the life of Willie Debro, the best shoeshine man in downtown Knoxville. Willie shined Mr. Arnett's shoes for years. The Arnett family may have no idea Willie even exists. But Foster Arnett cared for Willie - a care Willie reciprocated. Willie carries the spirit of a lifetime of simple, genuine gestures from a man whose soul survived the death of his body.

Foster Arnett gave Willie something much more valuable than a remote control car or a holiday ham. He gave the gift of himself.

Before Santa Claus dominated the calendar from October to December, it was easier to experience the miracle of Christmas. But what do people want today' a savior or sugar daddy? Which do we need? Do we really want to teach our children that if they are good enough, some fat guy in a red clown outfit is going to break into our house and bring them a GI Joe with a Kung Fu grip? What does that attitude say to (and about) the children of parents who are less affluent than you? Are those 'bad kids' because they did not get the bicycle they wanted? If we equate our children's gifts - even in a joking manner - to the quality of their actions during the year, how can a 10-year-old interpret other children's gifts any differently? If good behavior begets good and plentiful toys, then a skimpy Christmas bounty must be the result of poor behavior. Kids learn from us. Can we sell the notion of grace when we really prefer jewelry? What relationship does an X Box have with the hope represented in the birth of a child?

Regardless of your religious tradition (or lack of it), to rush to the mall today with a sense of panic and obligation is a shame. Whether the focus of your tradition is on an Eid-ul-Fitr festival of fast-breaking, a Temple rededication following the Maccabees' victory over the Greeks or the humble Judean birth of God in man, focus on your presence this week, not your presents.

David Moon is president of Moon Capital Management, a Knoxville-based investment management firm. This article originally appeared in the News Sentinel (Knoxville, TN).

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