Being Jewish, and having grown up without celebrating Christmas, I do feel the same kind of envy that Adam Sandler expresses in his classic Hanukkah Song.
This is unsurprising when you consider that the two most important Jewish calendar events are the one where you have to tell the entire story of the exodus from Egypt before you are allowed to eat and the one where you aren’t allowed to eat at all. Jewish holidays can be complicated, while Christmas is beautifully simple. As far as I can tell, everyone gets drunk and eats. Church is optional. Maybe, in extreme cases, some carols are sung. But mainly it’s the eating and the drinking. I can totally see the appeal.
The only thing that it is hard for me to wrap my Jewish brain around is why it is a good idea to spend your entire end-of-year bonus on presents that often entail guessing what the recipient wants and needs. This has led to a dialogue between me and my Christian friends that goes something like this:
Christian friend: It’s only mid December and I’m broke.
Me: Why are you broke?
Christian friend: Because I bought everyone Christmas presents.
Me: And your friends and family also bought everyone Christmas presents?
Christian friend: Yes.
Me: So they’re probably all broke too.
Christian friend: Yes.
Me: So why doesn’t everyone just stop buying each other presents and use the money to buy themselves what they need so that no-one has to be broke?
Christian friend stares at me in bemusement.
Never expect a Jewish guy to understand the spirit of Christmas.
One thing all people do understand, regardless of religion, race or creed, is the post-December-holiday financial blues, and the emotional depression that is caused by the annual economic depression we like to call January. In December, we all seem to spend like there’s no tomorrow, which is problematic, as there are actually 31 days’ worth of tomorrow, starting on the first of January, that can’t be avoided unless you are somehow able to spend these days hibernating or being cryogenically frozen. If December is one long party, January takes its revenge in the form of an equally long hangover.
It’s as if we secretly suspect that each New Year’s Eve is the last year on the Mayan calendar, that the world is going to come to an end and that any unspent money is going to be a huge waste when doomsday arrives. How else do you explain entire countries’ worth of people all spending cash as if Patrice Motsepe just handed them a credit card and told them that he’d build a school for each ten thousand rand spent.
If you were to film your holiday season and watch the footage backwards, it would be an inspirational rags-to-riches story. Watched forwards, though, and it’s more like a Greek tragedy, and by that I mean, rather than the ancient theatre form, any story involving extreme economic turmoil, much like they have experienced over the last few years in Greece.
Every year, we all seem to make the transition from spending mode: buying people rounds of drinks, eating out every day, booking plane tickets and/or buying a boat and just generally running through the streets dishing out wads of money; to all-tapped-out mode: warming a tin of baked beans over a fire made from unpaid electricity bills, the non-payment of which has plunged you into a state of permanent load-shedding.
We are hard wired to believe that there is only one way to have an enjoyable December, and that’s to throw your Randelas in the air and spend them like you just don’t care. We all tend to overspend at this time. Depending on your level of economic freedom, overspending could entail splashing out on a greyhound bus to KZN or a first class flight to Paris; taking the immediate family for Nando’s or taking the extended family for a 16 course food and wine pairing.
While we do deserve to treat ourselves and others at the end of a hard year, though, I am here to give you some sober and rational economic advice, as strange as it may seem that it is possible for sober and rational economic advice to come from a musical comedian.
The advice is simple – budget for January before going crazy with the spending in December. When you get that hard-earned bonus, as much as it may take every bit of willpower you possess to do this, the first thing you should do is put away enough to cover January’s expenses and make sure that those debit orders don’t bounce. Whatever you have left over after that is yours to spend however you wish. If that entails installing a self-tanning bed in your home in a frantic last-minute bid to get beach-ready, so be it. I’m not judging. Much.
Just a bit of careful economic planning can lead you to discover that, whatever the Mayans may try and tell you, the end of December is not the end of the world.