When did Christmas get out of control? I’m not talking about overenthusiastic grandparents spoiling grandkids with epic toy hauls — I mean the rest of us who have subscribed to an ever-growing list of so-called Christmas “essentials.”
It started with Santa pictures, which used to be a sweet memory that a mother could tack on her refrigerator to mark the passing of time. Now Santa pictures come with a whopping price tag.
At the Alderwood mall, the price is $39.99 and up. Parents can avoid the holiday rush by booking a FastPass — like they’re at Disneyland — to avoid waiting in line. The Alderwood Santa is adorable and everyone loves him.
But here’s the thing: Let’s say you try to save money one year and find a more affordable option, like at a community event or a local retirement home. Then you’re stuck with a Santa photo that doesn’t match your other Santa photos. Will you be OK with that? Or will it bug you for the rest of your life?
I might have avoided spending $700 on Santa photos for the past 14 years, but I’m guilty of succumbing to another trend that has gotten way out of control — matching family pajamas. I don’t remember this being a thing when I was a girl growing up in the 1980s.
Sometimes my sister and I would wear matching Lanz pajamas, but they didn’t have Rudolph’s butt on them. Now jammies for your family are everywhere, from your local department store display to your best friend from third grade’s Christmas card.
For a family of four, that means an extra $120 a year to tack onto your Christmas budget.
Since kids grow out of pajamas faster than you can say “Ho, ho, ho,” Mom and Dad will be stuck with a tacky assortment of flannels they’ll have for decades, but also feel guilty if they don’t buy a new family set each December since it’ll seem unfair the adults have Christmas jammies but the kids don’t.
The saddest way Christmas has spun out of control is Christmas cards. Forty years ago, handwritten cards, a snapshot in front of your fireplace or perhaps a typed-out letter were the norm. Now, it’s not uncommon for families to spend $350 on a photo shoot, and another $2.50-$4 per card on sites like Shutterfly or Etsy.
At that price point, Christmas cards become unaffordable for most families, which perhaps explains the decline in my mailbox.
Even if you buck that trend and try to find a more affordable option, like I did this year using photos from my phone and my husband’s old stamp collection (with his permission), parents face a sense of guilt knowing that time is fleeting and they didn’t get a “good” family picture.
If you’re a new parent this Christmas, think carefully before you embark on any family tradition. There are lots of ways to make meaningful memories that won’t bust your bank account for the next 18 years.
Jennifer Bardsley publishes books under her own name and the pseudonym Louise Cypress. Find her online on Instagram @the_ya_gal, on Twitter @jennbardsley or on Facebook as The YA Gal. Email her at email@example.com.