I hear a lot of people complaining about the over-the-top commercialization of holidays and asking when things like St. Patrick’s Day and Easter became such a production. Holiday overkill is a much-used term among certain parenting circles these day. It’s true that each occasion on the calendar is becoming more and more of a retail experience. The National Retail Federation, a U.S.-based firm, says that people are expected to spent about $18.4 billion on Easter this year. That compares to $18.2 billion on Valentine’s day, $8.4 billion for Halloween, and $5.3 billion on St. Patrick’s Day. That’s a lot of heck of a lot of money!
Perhaps the shift in the way we schedule our lives has a part to play in this increase in celebration. Our lives are more and more broken into segments of time – work, school, gym, sports, volunteering. Even our children’s play time with others is often carefully marked on the calendar weeks in advance! This creates a level of anticipation for everyday milestones that necessitates bigger markers of time, such as holidays, needing an ever-increasing level of excitement to make them stand out. But I don’t think the desire to celebrate in elaborate ways is completely a new thing. What’s new is how we share what happens in our homes in such public ways and the level of competition that creates.
I grew up in a lower-middle-class home in a rural community. Easter brought small chocolate eggs, an edible bunny or hollow egg with our names in icing, and a small gift or basket with the season’s bubbles and skipping ropes. But it also came with Easter Bunny-shaped cakes that my mother created, the same way she decorated back-to-school celebration cakes, built elaborate gingerbread houses from scratch at Christmas, and sewed homemade costumes each Halloween. We snapped family photos of these treats and treasures, but unless you came to our house during those times, you didn’t even see the Pinterest-worthy creations, let alone in their best light.
Today, all those photos are popping up in hundreds of other people’s daily lives, filtered and cropped and flat laid to look worthy of a magazine spread. They’re followed up with treat bags sent home for an entire class of students for every occasion, and battalions of bloggers publishing an endless supply of ideas online. My kids can peak over my shoulder as I surf online and see their friends’ lives presented as a snippet in time, rather than the reality of walking through their home. I can compare the full experience of my messy kitchen failures and ugly crafting attempts with the finished products of other parents. The desire to provide your family with the best experience can so easily be lost in the self-doubt of whether or not you are measuring up to expectations – but it’s important to remember whose expectation you really need to meet. What experiences do you want to create for you and your family, and why.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t have fun celebrating occasions. Bake a leprechaun trap. Build a gingerbread city. Buy your family gifts when you want to. But let’s make sure we’re doing these things because they bring us joy, and create family memories, and match up with our values. Not because we feel pressured to perform.
Let’s also keep that in mind when we share our stories. Not everyone can afford the same gifts or create the same experiences. Let’s post photos of smiling faces and the people we’re spending time with, not the things that surround us. You can be proud of providing for your family without broadcasting it to the world.