Holiday Excess

I love the holidays, mostly. I love the decorations and the music, the elaborate meals, the cards, and the school choir and band concerts. I love the ways in which we allow ourselves excess during this time of year, because so much of the year—at least for me—feels like I’m doing the opposite. I don’t just mean gluttony, either. I mean spending more time with my kids, staying up late to play Settlers of Catan or watching the Nightmare Before Christmas, or baking mountains of cookies and decorating them. There’s a feeling that it’s okay to indulge that permeates this time of year, and that isn’t present at any other time.

Of course, I qualified my statement—I love the holidays, mostly. The “mostly” is because this indulgence, this love of excess, comes with a price tag.

In an essay that you’ve probably already read, this is where the writer segues into the costs of buying gifts, of the debt that accumulates at this time of year. In that essay, the writer details the fact that American retailers depend on the holiday season to turn enough of a profit for the year.

This is not that essay.

My dad first went into rehab to treat his alcoholism the weekend after Thanksgiving, 1987. I was about to turn 14 and a freshman in high school. I also had a paper route, and I sometimes used my wages to buy things I needed, things my brothers needed. I was not a savior, though. Just as often, I spent my money on soda and candy and lip gloss, indulgences which allowed me to briefly feel like a normal teenager.

My brothers and I were living through a kind of suburban poverty that it would take years for me to understand, or put language to. We lived in a nice subdivision, surrounded by well-kept houses and manicured lawns, but in our house, we struggled to get enough to eat, to have warm clothes, or shoes without holes. I knew what poverty was supposed to look like: housing projects or ratty apartments, dangerous neighborhoods, bars on windows. It didn’t look like having a paper route, for example, and being able to buy a Dr. Pepper, or fritter away quarters on Ms. Pacman.

Gift for Teacher

“Because you don’t know what everyone else is giving,” says Kim Egan, a mother of two in Santa Monica, Calif. “You don’t want to under-give. You don’t want to over-give.”

Will You Be 3D Printing Your Christmas Presents?

Giving your friends and family things you made with a 3D printer is kind of like giving them something handmade, except instead of making something by hand you plugged a formula you found online into a machine, and then instead of a jar of jam or a picture frame or some clay jewelry (I don't know what people 'make', ok) the thing you give them is a small, useless piece of plastic.

White Elephant Gifts for $10 or Less Brought to the Holiday Party I Attended

10. Gift bag full of candy from the drugstore

Working Over the Holidays Horror Stories

Some stores like Wal-Mart are not content to wait until Black Friday to lure shoppers in with deals and stay open on Thanksgiving day itself. Others, though, are taking a stand.

Zagat on Tipping During the Holidays

Zagat put together a holiday tipping survey, and some of the responses are very interesting. At our fancy bar this weekend, a friend asked us how much to tip the coat check person, and we felt $2 would do it.

Food Lines Around the Holidays

“Myths can be comforting,” Ms. Purvis said. “Who wants to believe you can work your whole life and end up not being able to afford food? You want to believe those people had to have had something go wrong with them, in order for them to end up in that place. It’s scary to think you work two jobs and not be able to afford food.”

…From Brooklyn to the Bronx, in churches and community centers, she found a range of food pantries: from well-stocked, efficiently run operations to mom-and-pop outfits where good intentions exceeded capacity. What they had in common was need, with people waiting three hours or more for a bag of basic grocery items. Meat was a treat. In some places, baby formula and diapers were among the necessities handed out. Ms. O’Loughlin said that while most of the places she visited limited people to a monthly allotment, more resourceful people trekked to different pantries around the city. Following them home, she saw scenes where people huddled in building lobbies to trade food items or went upstairs to share with homebound neighbors.

The quote is from Margarette Purvis, the president and chief executive of Food Bank For New York City in Lens, the New York Times’s photography blog, which has images of food lines today. Thanksgiving and the December holidays are the times when donations to food banks and other charities that help the hungry and needy see big increases, and people are hyper aware of the places that are trying to help. It’s a good reminder that these food lines exist year-round. (See also: “How a Food Bank Changed a Community,” an excerpt from Melville House from earlier this year.)

Photo: State Farm

A Holiday in Montana

Montana wasn't a state I ever gave much thought to until I found myself staring out the window of an Amtrak train at the seemingly unchanging scenery of big sky country. As the train rattled down the tracks I started to wonder if we were even moving—the scenery seemed to repeat itself every 30 seconds like the fake background behind a car in an old movie. It's hard to explain it, but the miles upon miles of emptiness gave me a sense of reverse claustrophobia.

Should You Buy a Holiday Gift for Your Boss?

Do a Google search for "presents for bosses" or "etiquette for bosses present," and there is no shortage of articles ready to dispense advice. On one hand, accepted etiquette through the years has been that presents in professional settings should flow down the command chain, not up.

A Financial Adviser Plans Her Holiday Spending

I am frequently asked for suggestions on saving money over the holidays, so I thought I’d share some ideas that have helped me.