This time of year always gets me down. Not really sure why since as a Jew it’s not my holiday. Perhaps it’s the endless pressure to make nice at a series of cocktail parties and holiday dinners; the fake niceness from people who are rude or dismissive all year; the overly attentive and cheerful retail workers who at any other time of year forget that they work in a customer service business. Maybe it’s that I value authenticity and abhor hypocrisy. And this time of year is full of it. People who don’t give a damn about their neighbours all year suddenly spending hundreds of dollars on gifts for their already pampered children and then as an afterthought buying some dollar store game to donate to a toy drive. People spending hundreds on a single family dinner kicking in several dollars worth of canned goods to a food drive. Or coming out of the mall, having spent hundreds or even thousands of dollars on gifts and then dropping a measly few bucks in the Salvation Army kettle only because they feel guilty if they don’t.
Don’t get me wrong. Donating toys, clothing, food and money to assist those most in need is just plain good citizenry. My sadness stems not from the fact that we do it at this time of year but rather the juxtaposition with what we don’t do all year long. When I lived and practised law in Mississauga about ten years ago, I sat for a number of years on the board of Foodpath (now the Mississauga Food Bank) the largest food bank in Peel Region, serving thousands of clients a month. At Christmas and Easter, the haul was bountiful. But there were months during the year where we were literally scraping the bottom of the barrel to make sure all those in need could be serviced, and meeting the annual operating budget was and always a concern. People who require the assistance of food banks and other front line charitable organizations require those services all year long. All the holiday talk about peace, love, and generosity of spirit, giving-better-than-receiving fades away as quickly after Christmas as the old year fades away into the new.
And what of the unnecessary token gifts and not so veiled business promotional items handed out willy nilly as if from some drunken Santa at this time of year. Not a day has gone by in the last two weeks where I didn’t receive at my office some chotchka from another law firm, court reporting service, mediation company, process serving company or other service provider to whom I pay thousands of dollars a year in fees or refer work. Little paper calendars with no room to actually write anything, date books that can’t record a scintilla of what I can put in my iphone, cheap pens, fridge magnets, mouse pads and two dollar clocks- all embossed with the logo of that particular business. If you really want to send me a logo-embossed gift, have the decency to send me something with MY firm’s name on it. Your so-called gift is nothing more than a cheap shill for your firm, a firm with which I already happily do business. And as for holiday cards, don’t need them. Get dozens every year, all cold and impersonal, recycled as fast as they arrive. The cost to your company in printing, postage and person-hours is money that could be better spent elsewhere, such as charity or community service. I don’t know the total economic cost just within in the legal profession in Toronto to all these holiday cards and gifts but it’s not hard to imagine millions of dollars. Do any of these people seriously think I would punish them by taking away my business if they neglected to send me a holiday greeting card or useless bauble with their name on it if in fact they have provided me or my clients good service over the last twelve months?
All of this money would better serve our community, and uphold the best tenets of our once highly regarded profession, were it donated to food banks, breakfast programs, social service not-for-profits, senior care programs, toy drives and the like.
And that is why none of my clients or business contacts receive holiday cards and gifts. Enough is enough. After 20 years of being sucked in, this year and in the future, if I have an extra few thousand in my promotional budget for Christmas gifts and cards, I’m divvying it up amongst some of those organizations whose need far outweighs those of me and the professionals with whom I do business.