I spent the Thanksgiving holiday at my Mom's house, hanging out with my brother and sisters, catching up on old times and meeting some of my nieces and nephews for the very first time. After most everyone had gone to bed, my sister and I spent some time watching TV (we're both insomniacs) and came across one of the strangest (and funniest) shows I had ever seen.

The whole show consisted of video clips of people stampeding to buy cheap TVs, IPods, computers and other stuff on Black Friday. People were literally trampled, and there were a few fist fights caught on tape as well. It would be hysterical if it wasn't also a bit sad.

What has reduced Americans to the level that they are willing to physically fight each other for the opportunity to purchase a television set? Is a cheap TV really worth injuring somebody else?

I believe the answer lies in the expectations and stress that we have placed on ourselves to have a "joyous" holiday season. It's not enough to be in the company of family and friends who love us, enjoy some good food, and perhaps do something good for someone else. We also have to buy them an impressive gift that we would otherwise tell ourselves we can't afford any other time of the year.

I used to fall into this trap, as recently as just a few years ago. I would get so stressed over the fact that I couldn't afford to buy my sons a Playstation 3 or a new video game or the latest version of IPod that I usually had a horribly depressing Christmas. Not only that, but I usually made everyone around me miserable as well.

It was only in the past couple of years that I have changed my attitude about gift-giving during the Christmas season. Of course, I give gifts...but I give gifts from the heart that I think will have sentimental value or really mean something to the person I am giving them to. Can you remember everything you received for Christmas last year? Chances are...you can't. Personally, I can only recall one item I received for Christmas last year. It doesn't mean that I don't appreciate what I received. I appreciate the fact that my wife spends a lot of time shopping for me each year. However, it really isn't necessary for her to do so.

Christmas means something else to me. It's a chance for me to appreciate the fact that my family has so much more to be thankful for this year than we did just 5 years ago, when we couldn't really afford to have a Christmas at all. It's also a chance for me to help other families that are in that very same position. These are things that have taken over my "to do" list during the holiday season:

Donate money to the Salvation Army. They do good work, and my contribution is tax deductible.

Purchase a gift for a child that otherwise wouldn't get one. Again, the Salvation Army runs a program for this, and the Marine Corps also has its "Toys for Tots" program.

Donate food to the local Food Bank. There was a time I didn't know how I was going to afford my next meal. I've come a long way since those days. I never used a food bank myself. I don't know why it never occurred to me to use one, but I just didn't. There will be plenty of people who will need to use one this year, however.

Donate a coat to "Coats for Kids". I still have a teenage son at home who is outgrowing his clothes. The coat he wore last year will help keep another kid warm this year.

Go the the movies on Christmas Day. I don't go to the movie theater very often due to the price of the tickets. I'd rather wait until the movie hits cable. However, it is a tradition in our family to go and see a comedy together each Christmas Day. It's a fun day with the wife and kids, and I wouldn't miss it.

I usually buy gifts online, or I hit the local stores the last weekend before Christmas. I already know what my family wants, and there are always good deals to be had if you look around enough. While my family is important to me, battling crowds at the mall and shopping...isn't. I'd rather do the other things first...the things that I know will make others AND my family and I enjoy the holidays a bit more than whatever I find at the mall.


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