Most precious holiday gift is time: Ask Kitty

The holidays should be a time of joy, but that doesn’t mean they come without challenges. Much of the mail I’ve been getting is from people grappling with how to enjoy the season without spending as much as they used to.

Joanne Kerr in Pittsburgh puts her finger on it: “The entire country has changed their spending habits over the last few months,” she writes. “Hopefully everyone will conserve … spend a dollar instead of a million.” From necessity for many, by choice for others, conspicuous consumption has gone out of style — at least for the time being.

Simpler times

Maybe that’s why I get the sense from your e-mails that many people yearn for a simpler time when there didn’t seem to be as much pressure to build heaps of packages under the tree. “What do you remember about Christmas when you were younger?” LaDonna Matney-Dowie of Waterbury, Conn., asks. “I am going to guess you got one gift if you were lucky.” Helene G. in Collegeville, Pa., chimes in: “I can’t imagine the kids of today being happy with only a Christmas stocking filled with cookies and a quarter. My mother said they’d wait all year for that one quarter!”

Both of you are on the money, so to speak: On Christmas morning my siblings and I would find the white stockings we’d hung on a chair rail filled mostly with walnuts and candy, anchored by a big orange at the bottom. I particularly remember the pink pillow candies that stuck to the inside of the stocking (we ate them anyhow).

We had all written letters to Santa (which, I would learn later, our uncle burned), and in response, each of us got one toy that was age- and gender-appropriate: dolls and doll cribs for girls, for example, skates and sports equipment for boys. But we also got clothing and books: My brothers enjoyed boys’ adventure stories, while I loved paper dolls that you dressed in outfits with folding tabs.

We may not have been prosperous, but we didn’t feel poor. We heard our parents talking about Hoover and Roosevelt, but it was the people who owned stock who were jumping off buildings. Miners, like my father, were still getting paid; people still had to have coal.

Family fun

My uncles had mining-related jobs too, and they brought us toys that we were all expected to share, like Lincoln Logs and Tinkertoys. And when we got bored with those, we turned to dominoes, card games, checkers and chess — pastimes parents and kids alike can still enjoy together today, whether or not you have a Wii or an Xbox.

Ken Erd, a “youngster” four years shy of my age writing all the way from South Korea, admits his Social Security check “limits the potential for Christmas gifts for the family.”  But he uses technology to overcome both cost and distance by taking digital pictures of family members, printing them on quality paper from his computer, and mounting them in inexpensive frames for “the many members of our extended family.”

Ken has the right idea. As a nurse I have seen both life and death up close, and it is my considered medical opinion that none of us is going to live forever. Money may come and go, but time is the most precious commodity we can expend on loved ones. The charms of even the fanciest gift can fade over time — unless it comes wrapped in effort and thoughtfulness.

That goes for food, too. Many readers have been asking me for economical holiday recipes, so I am passing along a recipe for the Christmas cookies that have been a tradition in my family for years. These are fun to make as well as eat; children love to help cut them out and decorate them. They’re a perfect way to forge fond holiday memories even when your budget is tight, and to spend time — the greatest gift of all — with loved ones.

( rated)
Makes 100-plus cookies Servings
Get the recipe

Kitty Schindler, who grew up one of 10 children of a Pennsylvania coal miner during the Depression, shares her perspectives on staying afloat during challenging times with readers. If you have a question for Kitty or a tip of your own to share, send her an e-mail! To Ask Kitty, click here.