How MVHS students and parents manage Christmas expenses
Silver fairy lights line the roof, blinking like frozen fireflies. Orange flames lick hungrily at the hearth, the crackling of the fireplace muffled by the sweet melody of the song “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Above the fireplace hangs a row of four stockings, bellied out and sagging with the weight of small gifts.
Suddenly, a chorus of laughter erupts from the living room. There sits MVHS parent Rachel Wang, watching her 16-year-old son gingerly pick up a computer from a sea of red wrapping paper — his face is fixed into a hilariously incredulous expression, because he had expected an uninteresting sweater as always. It’s Christmas Day, the culmination of the anticipation that has been building since the beginning of December. It’s a time of joy, a time of relaxation, but also, perhaps, a time for some more open-handed spending.
“I don’t have a budget anymore,” Wang said. “My husband actually likes to pamper everybody with something during the holidays so I don’t think he has a budget either. These days, we get into the habit that holidays are kind of [an] indulging time.”
Since immigrating to America and having their first child, Wang’s family has picked up an array of Christmas traditions. Every year during Christmastime, her son returns home from college, and the Christmas celebrations begin. Their family exchanges gifts, invites friends and family over, and in recent years, Wang’s daughter has become responsible for putting up their 20-year-old plastic Christmas tree.
Sophomore Emily Hu’s parents also attempted to bring their kids into the holiday spirit by putting up a Christmas tree, after realizing that their family wasn’t participating in certain American traditions due to their Asian background. However, they eventually stopped during their kids’ high school years, only occasionally buying Christmas chocolates if they were on sale.
“My parents used to try harder, I believe because they wanted us to assimilate into America, where a lot of people do celebrate Christmas,” Hu said. “But now they’ve given up a little bit because we are older and we can make our own decisions [about] how we want to live.”
Sophomore Patricia Saito also comes from an Asian family, but they never devoted much money or time to Christmas. Because Asian gift-giving etiquette can be quite troublesome for Saito’s family — specifically the perception that exchanging gifts of unequal monetary value is rude — her parents avoid participating in gift exchanging.
“Since we’re in the Bay Area, where there’s a lot of Asian people … their parents mindsets’ are probably very similar to my parents,” Saito said. “I would imagine that most people don’t make too big of a deal out of it. Maybe people still would get each other Christmas presents and wouldn’t be as reserved as my family, but at the same time, I can’t imagine anything super overblown.”
While Wang wouldn’t categorize her family’s celebrations as “super overblown,” she doesn’t want to miss the chance to celebrate and perhaps spend money more generously during such a festive time. Nevertheless, she understands that families have different values and situations, and may not celebrate the way they do.
“You don’t really want to impose, right?” Wang said. “And for some friends, if you give them some gifts, you kind of force them into gift-giving ... and you don’t want to cause that sort of [thing]. For them, it’s a burden.”
Wang also acknowledges that families may refrain from doing Christmas shopping in fear of falling into the trap of overspending or buying things that they or others may not need. She admits that she would sometimes gift friends clothes or toys that they might have thrown aside or given away.
“You have to figure [out what friends want] in the best way you can and try to not waste resources [and] make people happy,” Wang said. “Let them feel like they are special. You are thinking of them, not just [giving] them anything, right? I do try to be thoughtful, but sometimes it’s just hard.”
Hu holds a similar view, but she has simply resorted to not seeking presents from others and consequently, doesn’t squander money on insignificant gifts.
“We’re not the biggest on family presents,” Hu said. “Mostly, it’s you buying yourself a present because you know what you want. When you do get Christmas presents, a lot of the time it’s something you don’t really need, or you want [the present] for a couple of days and then you’ll drop it after a while, so it’s a little bit wasteful.”
Regardless of budgetary concerns, Wang still cherishes the holiday. Almost everybody is off work, so she finally is able to find time to reunite with family and friends and bask in everyone’s uplifted holiday mood.
“We live in [an American] environment, and kids were born and grew up in this environment and they like to celebrate the holidays,” Wang said. “We just want them to feel really happy, and we [also] enjoy it when there’s this holiday atmosphere.”
“I’ll be home for Christmas...”
Intended to pay homage to the hundreds of thousands of soldiers stationed overseas for the holiday season, iconic singer Bing Crosby’s Christmas legacy evokes a strong sense of wistful longing for the comfort of one’s home during the holiday season. Yet for most of us, the song has become little more than a standard Christmas song to be sung offkey with friends around a fireplace or in the car on the way to the mall.
What is often forgotten in the spirit of blithe holiday joy is how the lyrics may strike a little too close to home for some. All too often, we overlook the millions people in America who spend their holidays working in ignorance of the fact that holidays off from work aren’t always a given.
Federal law does not require employers to offer paid holidays for their workers, nor pay overtime (unless the employee is working more than 40 hours that week), but what people sometimes also fail to recognize is that holidays simply aren’t for everyone (regardless of the denomination or lack thereof).
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ most recent update, 23 percent of the civilian workforce does not receive paid holidays. In particular, workers in leisure and hospitality, like cooks, personal trainers and bartenders, had the highest numbers, with 63 percent of the workforce not receiving paid holidays.
We pity the cashiers who help us purchase the necessary elements for a successful Secret Santa. We offer a sympathetic smile to the postman delivering our Priority Mail just in time for it to be surreptitiously placed under the Christmas tree. We chastise the adolescent waiter who serves us our celebratory lava cake on the last day of the year.
But when will we stop to consider that they don’t need to witness our apologies, our condolences, our sad attempts to appeal to their evidently grieving souls by reminding them of the very things they are missing out on? Wouldn’t they be celebrating the holidays if they could?
Rather than trusting our skewed perspectives to outline how we behave, we need to start acknowledging the implications of our actions over our intentions. As much as we want to help others feel better about their actions, the fact of the matter is that it’s not our role to determine how other people feel about what we convey.
In essence, we need to actively work to make their jobs easier rather than remain uninformed perpetrators of their toil:
While the holidays may seem a universal concept adored by many, consider that some workers simply cannot afford to take days off and lose potential time earning wages. It’s important to be respectful of this complexity and polite to those diligently spending their holidays at work.
While sales associates, hotel staff and store employees (among others) have jobs that invite them to cater to the needs of their consumers, they shouldn’t have to clean up unnecessary messes created by hundreds of careless bodies. Wanting to capitalize on a once-in-a-lifetime deal is no valid excuse for augmenting the toil of those who will be held responsible for the aftermath of our actions.
And while it may seem like holiday budgets are already stretched thin for those of us with gifts to buy for countless Secret Santas, extended family members and almost-friends, we must still remember that monetary tips are significantly helpful to those who must work to compensate for financial struggles.
Even when little can be done to prevent an added burden, appreciation, when expressed without conditions or limitations, can serve as an immense restorative.
We deem ourselves virtuous citizens for validating the collective suffering of the working class, but we have yet to recognize how our deceptively pure intentions have manifested themselves as poorly executed maneuvers.
We might be home for Christmas, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have work to do.
Individuals discuss how Christmas is represented as opposed to other holidays
To guidance counselor Jessica Coscia, celebrating both Christmas and Hanukkah is important to her and her family. Coscia is Catholic, although she had not recently been participating actively in the church. In 2014, Coscia married her husband, who grew up celebrating both Christmas and Hanukkah. When they were dating, they loosely celebrated both holidays together, but when they had kids together a couple years ago, teaching them about both religious holidays became a necessity.
“My son is young and is learning things — we just talked to him about different things [like] the eight nights,” Coscia said. “And so we’ve started talking a little bit about Christmas, and we’ll teach him a little bit more about Christmas when it gets closer. So I mean, he’s still little, so he’s still learning and you can’t really put too much on him, he’s just like, ‘What, I get presents? This is awesome.’”
However, every year around the holiday season, Coscia is reminded of students who celebrate other religious holidays and don’t get time off. Even though Coscia is appreciative of the two week break, she believes that it’s unfair that students who celebrate other holidays don’t get designated time off, as winter break always includes Christmas.
“We have students who are Jewish, and they want to take time off to spend with their family to celebrate Hanukkah, but if they miss school, then they have to make up that work,” Coscia said. “And ironically, Hanukkah isn’t even the biggest holiday in the Jewish faith. I think that people who don’t know about Judaism, think like, ‘Oh, Hanukkah is like Jewish Christmas,’ and it’s like, yes, you get gifts, but it’s not like the biggest, most celebrated [Jewish holiday].”
Even though missing school for religious reasons doesn’t count against student attendance, junior Tajin Syed agrees with Coscia. She expresses the struggle she experiences in deciding whether or not she should miss school for Eid al-Adha, one of two Islamic holidays which occurs according to the Islamic lunar calendar, causing it to fall early in the school year.
“I just feel like they should have days off for any type of holiday, any religious activity because I don’t want to be marked absent for doing something like for my religion,” Syed said. “It forces me to choose like, do I go to school? Or do I go to the mosque? ... My parents will go to the mosque, but [because] we’re not [very] religious, they say, ‘Right now you’re young and you should prioritize school for now.’”
On the other hand, Christmas is a time of important traditions for senior Amanda Wilson. Every year, she celebrates Christmas traditions, including going to a tree farm to pick and cut down their own Christmas tree. Even though she is passionate about Christmas, she still thinks that other holidays should get more portrayal.
“I do feel like other religious holidays should get more representation because I feel like Christmas is just being overrepresented in the media,” Wilson said.
Wilson thinks that because of how Christmas is widely celebrated by people who are religious as well as people who aren’t, it is deserving of the hype it receives every year.
“I think it’s more than just religion, because there’s the story of Santa and everything. I feel like you don’t have to be religious to believe in Santa and everything like that,” Wilson said. “I feel like a lot of the religious parts of it has kind of gone away for a lot of people.”
Syed thinks that the amount of emphasis placed on Christmas versus other holidays, especially Hanukkah, in unjust as America consists of individuals with various beliefs and cultures which should all be represented.
“I understand that the U.S. has a Christian population that’s dominant … but [the] U.S. is supposed to be like the mixing pot where all cultures, all religions, all types of people are represented,” Syed said. “So I think we should work towards representing other holidays and religions besides Christianity.”
Coscia herself puts greater effort to recognize and represent the different religious winter holidays. On her family holiday cards, instead of reading “Merry Christmas,” they read “Happy Holidays” to be more inclusive of other religions, avoiding the assumption that everyone celebrates Christmas.
“I think I was naive before I met my husband, even. I studied religions in college ... and before I started dating my husband, I didn’t have a lot of Jewish friends just out of happenstance,” Coscia said. “So marrying him, and being with him, I’m more cognizant of not saying ‘Merry Christmas’ [and] saying ‘Happy Holidays’ and being more aware that people celebrate different things.”
Syed critiques the education system for failing to represent holidays other than Christmas, saying it’s apparent that students don’t receive the same opportunity to celebrate other religious holidays. Because of this, she believes that there should be informative days at school to educate the student body. She also notes a discrepancy in social media representation.
“I just wish other holidays got the same amount [of] notice, like on Snapchat there are like [seven] filters for Christmas and then on Eid, it’s literally one filter. Hanukkah has two, I think,” Syed said.
Coscia believes that social media may play a role in how one views the importance of religious holidays growing up, but she ultimately thinks that the way one raises their children has the greatest effect on this. Coscia says that her mother-in-law placed an equal amount of importance on Christmas and Hanukkah, and hopes to do the same with her own family.
“I know that we will as best to our abilities represent Christmas as much as we have Hanukkah decorations in the house, and celebrating not just Hanukkah but other [Jewish] holidays,” Coscia said. “So I hope that we will raise our children to respect to both equally and celebrate both equally, and then be able to kind of pass [that] off [and] when their friends say ‘Merry Christmas,’ they [say], ‘Oh, yeah, we’re celebrating Hanukkah.’”
When holiday season arrives, it is common for groups of friends to exchange gifts and participate in spreading the holiday spirit. A unique form of this gift exchange includes Secret Santa.
Some students, like senior Prateek Kaushik, are able to look past the money aspect of presents and believe that the idea is what truly matters when being a gift-giver. Kaushik is participating in two secret Santa gift exchanges this year: one for Octagon officers, and one for the leadership class.
“I think it’s based on the theme of the day because usually how secret Santa is run is that each day has a different theme,” Kaushik said. “I don’t think cost is necessarily a reflection of the quality of the gift because sometimes it’s homemade and I feel if there’s a meaningful message alongside, it can be more meaningful than a 20 dollar to 30 dollar gift.”
Though Kaushik believes that the thought behind a gift should be prioritized over its monetary value, he does recognize a sense of pressure to spend money on a gift. However, he actually sees it as a form of positive pressure that results in a good karma.
“If one of the days has a theme that isn’t something as personal, sometimes there is pressure [to spend more money],” Kaushik said. “But I kind of see [the pressure] in a good way because if you spend more money on the gift and you think other people will be happier with that gift then you also feel as if you expect the same back in secret Santa so it’s good karma.”
Sophomore Rachel Kim is also participating in a secret Santa gift exchange this year, and has a different perspective from Kaushik. She believes that the scenarios can be different, and that there are specific cases in which pressure to spend money may be higher than others.
“If you’re less familiar with them [your gift receiver], you might feel pressure to spend more but if you’re closer with them, you will know what they want and [whether] they want a more personal gift.” Kim said, “ [You will know] if they value money over thought, and so you would spend based on that.”
Senior Pramodh Srihari is also participating in two secret Santa gift exchanges this year and believes that everyone involved in the gift exchange should have a similar monetary value on their gifts.
“I think it’s definitely more important of what you give because everyone should focus on the giving and everyone will be receiving great things,” Srihari said. “You could probably engage Secret Santa gifts without actually having to spend money but that’s if everyone agrees to [do] that because I don’t think it would be fair if someone is spending 10 dollars on their present if you’re not spending any money at all.”
Sophomore Surya Ramesh is participating in four secret Santa exchanges, and he reasons that the group of people participating in the gift exchange should set a budget that doesn’t create pressure for anyone to spend lots of money.
“In Secret Santas, you set your own budget or your limit,” Ramesh said. “So one of my secret Santas’ budget is 15 dollars and the other one is 40 dollars, so it definitely depends on who you’re doing it with and you don’t have to make it huge.”
Kim has a somewhat different opinion as she thinks that sometimes the budget may be ignored, meaning that with or without a budget, the pressure to spend more money remains.
“If one person decides to go over by a lot, then like, obviously that guideline’s just not there anymore because people feel pressure to match up to that level,” Kim said.
Kim has experienced specific cases in which having a budget may just add even more pressure when people cross it.
“If someone brings their present earlier and it seems super expensive and way over the budget, then you might feel pressure to spend more just because someone is setting the standard so high,” Kim said.
For people who want to share some holiday love, Ramesh truly believes that money should not be a worry. He hopes that happiness is prioritized over money and that people can focus on the idea of gift giving.
“I definitely think if it’s for making people happy, then money shouldn’t be an issue.” Ramesh said. “[You] just gotta partake in the holiday spirit!”
Christmas draws away from the religion
Christmas for non-Christian people
For former MVHS student Mariam Naguib, the holidays are not so much a religious time as they are an opportunity for businesses to sell Christmas-themed items.
Although Naguib’s family is not Christian and doesn’t celebrate Christmas, she still enjoys the spirit of the holiday season and the environment around her during this time. Naguib and her three siblings will often go to Christmas in the Park events or tree lighting ceremonies.
“The idea of Christmas spirit is super cute and really nice,” Naguib said. “Even though I don’t actually celebrate it, I just think it’s a nice idea. I like how people decorate their houses, and everything is just so pretty.”
Senior Kapilan Ganesh is also not Christian, but unlike Naguib, his family embraces Christmas as a holiday. Before Ganesh entered high school, his family would put up a Christmas tree and leave presents. They would also attend holiday parties hosted by their family friends, who were also non-Christian.
Ganesh and his family are Hindus. To incorporate their own religion into Christmas, his family would put up ornaments of Hindu gods on their Christmas tree, as well as photos of Ganesh’s grandparents.
Although this tradition ended when his older brother departed for college and Ganesh started high school, he and his family still have holiday parties with their family friends. Ganesh hopes to extend the tradition in the future.
“When I have children, I’ll probably continue that kind of Christmas thing because I think I enjoy having something to look forward to: Christmas morning and stuff like that,” Ganesh said.
Senior Casey Tsai, who’s Buddhist, believes that Christmas is somewhat of an extension of Thanksgiving and simply an opportunity for family and friends to get together. Tsai says that though her family was unable to put up a Christmas tree with the move to a smaller home, they still put up tinsel trees. She also attends Christmas in the Park.
According to Tsai, Christmas is not only an American holiday, but it’s also become integral in other countries. In Japan, Shinto and Buddhism are the main religions, but Tsai emphasizes the prominence of Christmas there.
“I like how [Christmas] brings everyone together in the end,” Tsai said. “To me, that means more than [a] religious entity’s birthday.”
Ganesh feels that Christmas is not necessarily solely a Christian holiday anymore, but the culture in America has evolved in such a way that all kids, regardless of their religious upbringing, believe in Santa.
“I think [Christmas] has emerged as some kind of American holiday,” Ganesh said. “There’s kind of an assimilation aspect that people have with American holidays, [and] I think that’s one aspect of why my parents celebrated it.”