We've never dealt with the aftermath of a house fire or a major flood or catastrophic storm damage (knock wood), but we've always been struck by something we've heard people who have had their homes destroyed say resignedly, even gratefully: "It's just stuff."
We kept thinking about those words when it came time to work on City Paper's Holiday Guide for 2009. The various holidays that dot the calendar between Thanksgiving and New Year's Eve celebrate many things, but let's face it, in our culture this season is mostly about stuff. There's some stuff you stuff in your face, but mostly we're talking about stuff you buy to give to other people, or stuff you hope other people will buy to give to you. Not only is there the traditional exchange of stuff, but the stores that sell stuff have come to depend on people buying piles of stuff at this time of year, to the point where if people don't buy enough stuff during the holidays, it's serious bad news.
Of course, many are facing serious bad news already. Millions of Americans have lost their jobs due to the ailing economy, and many of the millions who still have jobs are living on a much leaner budget. Those who can afford to buy holiday presents this year will probably be buying fewer and cheaper, and some won't be able to afford much of anything at all. But the holidays are still coming, and we're all still here, and if we're lucky, we'll be able to be with our friends and families on those special red-ink days on the calendar, and maybe that'll have to be enough. In fact, maybe that's plenty.
We decided to examine this stuff that has so come to define the season this issue is designed to guide you through. We asked various CP contributors to write about gifts that rose above the level of socks from grandma and really mattered to their lives (The Gifts That Count). Edward Ericson Jr. talks with economist Joel Waldfogel about the actual value of socks from grandma, and of holiday gifts in general (Stocking Stiffers). Emily Flake offers a comic look at gifts the givers are loathe to give, even for free (The Busman's Holiday). And rather than compiling a bunch of ideas for gifts under $15, like that's some kind of novel idea this particular holiday season, we decided to take a slightly different tack and talk about a few gifts we really can't afford (The Wish List). And of course, what would a Holiday Guide issue be without the Holiday Guide itself--page after page of stuff to do for the holidays (The Holiday Guide).
And keep in mind: If you're dry and healthy, and can count even a handful of other blessings, the rest is just stuff.