Postpone the Christmas season

By DAVID MOON, Moon Capital Management
November 26, 2006

The story is a clich', but it's full of truth: You give a kid an expensive gift, and he ignores the toy and plays with the box. It happened at my house last weekend.

It was the first sort-of winter Sunday of the season. It was cold; there wasn't a lot of sunshine. The house was an alluring alternative to the yard, a temptation to which my kids easily succumbed.

They spent the afternoon building a family-room fort, made from blankets, flipped furniture and stacked pillows.

They played and had a ball. Upstairs, rooms full of toys went untouched.

I thought about that as I watched another frenzied Friday of shopping following Thanksgiving. People buying things they don't want, with money they don't have, to give to people who don't need it.

Ah, the start of the Christmas season. The beginning of our annual orgy of acquisitions.

I decided not to start the Christmas season this weekend. Instead I'm treating it like the extension of the Thanksgiving season.

I plan to spend the next four weeks taking a little extra time each day to make list of the things for which I'm grateful. Not a shopping list, but rather a Thanksgiving list. People, health, this incredible country, capitalism, imagination. Gravity. Thomas Edison. Thomas Jefferson.

Each year, my wife and I acknowledge that the things that mean most to us and our kids don't come in a box. But then, just like Pavlov's dog, someone rings a bell after Thanksgiving dinner and we start our collection of needless gifts.

We say we're going to focus more on friends and family, so we plan a big party. Then I'm not allowed to roam my own house during December, lest I mess up all the new stuff we bought for the party.

I remember only one Christmas gift my parents ' or their appointed white-haired, bearded agent ' gave me: a Mossberg 500 12-gauge shotgun. It was, I think, the only gift my father ever selected for me.

I was 12 years old, and to me it was a sign that my father trusted me. He and I never played together with Hot Wheels cars or Play-Doh or whatever other odds and ends filled my wish list each year. But we spent hours walking through fields together with our guns.

He showed me how to clean a barrel, and how to clean a quail.

I didn't need the gun. I just needed the attention. The gun was simply the box in which the attention was packaged.

It would be a good thing for the U.S. economy in the fourth quarter of 2006 if we continued our traditional holiday custom of overspending in December as much as we overeat in November. But I'm pretty certain that's shortsighted thinking, both economically and psychologically.

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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