When I moved a few years ago and emptied out my kids’ closets, I found mounds of unused gifts from family, friends and Santa. Then I recalled the stress Santa endured rounding up some of those promptly neglected gifts, often just a few days before Christmas. This made Santa feel angry. But then Santa realized he had only himself to blame.
Santa faces catastrophic disruption this year. Many of the elfin workshops have strict Covid protocols that are slashing capacity. Santa’s sleigh will spend weeks trying to offload gifts at clogged ports such as Long Beach and Savannah, and many of those gifts simply won’t make it in time. The presents that get through the ports still might not make it to the chimney by Christmas, given a vast shortage of last-mile transporters. Millions of kids face the risk of savage disappointment the morning on December 25.
But there’s a solution: Santa can coordinate with parents to stop the madness. It starts, as everything does, with setting realistic expectations. Parents need to explain to their kids that this year is different. There aren’t enough game consoles, bikes, L.O.L. dolls or iPhones for everybody who expects one under the tree. Santa’s just-in-time delivery system was always a high-wire act, and it finally broke down. Santa’s begging for relief, and who can deny Santa? If you need a villain, blame the Grinch called Covid, or the Democrats, or the Republicans, or whoever is Enemy No. 1 in your home.
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This will be a fevered negotiation, so as your starting point consider canceling Christmas altogether. This will be untenable to the kids of course, so when they threaten to jump out the window, reluctantly revert to your fallback: What if we just scale it back this year? Santa can’t provide every must-have gift, but he might be able to scrounge some 2020 leftovers. Partial Christmas is better than No Christmas. Plus, there's still plenty of uneaten Halloween candy for the stockings.
Collusion is illegal in business—but not in parenting. So coax as many of your fellow parents into the scheme as you can. It’s a solid pitch: Save money, time and aggravation by exploiting the pandemic shortages to slash your shopping burden. Maybe you’ll actually enjoy the holidays for once. Use the money you save to buy something nice for yourself. If you’re nervous, keep some cash on hand for day-after clearance sales.
Kids like knowing fancy adult words, so get their buy-in by explaining that Santa’s “supply chains” are an intricate choreography that got messed up this year. Soon they’ll all consider themselves experts on “supply chains.” As all the kids start talking about supply chains, the herd mentality will work its magic: If others hear same thing as you, it must be true. Partial Christmas will start to seem like the new normal.
Some parents will inevitably resist, the same ones who feel duty-bound year after year to go over-the-top at Christmas, or else their kids will get mad at them. Anticipate this and pre-empt it. Explain to your kids the black market: Some stuff that isn’t available in stores, where people buy it legally, makes its way into a secret market where people break the rules. In fact, black-market buyers sometimes ruin Christmas for kids who follow the rules by cornering the market in coveted goods. This way, when the kid down the street somehow gets a PlayStation that’s out of stock, it will provoke suspicion of criminal activity rather than envy.
Once you’ve laid the groundwork, you will face the toughest challenge of your parental life: Waiting and worrying that your children will hate you. You’ll constantly be tempted to break the fast and splurge. You’ll see news of gate-crashing Black Friday crowds and fear you’ve made a terrible mistake. You’ll frantically check in with the other parents to make sure they’re keeping up their end of the deal. But here’s the good news: The longer you wait, the more stranded you’ll be. In fact, if you don’t have your Christmas shopping done by now, you’ve already missed the boat. Your only options at this point are to steal the hot gifts from parents who ordered them in July or see Partial Christmas all the way through.
One of my most vibrant Christmas memories is getting a bunch of fancy gifts for my two young kids that came in big boxes. After opening the gifts, the kids played in the boxes for the rest of the day. For the next week, the gifts sat along the wall while the kids mauled the boxes.
I missed the obvious lesson until it was too late. I piled up the gifts every year, often worrying that it wasn’t enough and going out to buy one or two more. The kids didn’t deliberately shun the gifts by putting them in the closet. They just reacted to the overload of megawatt consumerism by absorbing what they could and offloading the rest.
My kids, who are now adults, never endured a pandemic when they were young. Until recently, I considered that lucky. But now I’m not so sure. Maybe Partial Christmas is more like real Christmas than the Excessive version. Gutsy parents have a chance to find out.
Rick Newman is the author of four books, including "Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success.” Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman. You can also send confidential tips.