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February 2024
Vol. 23, No. 5
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Smoke Signals

I Made This Just for You!

by Jeff BerkleyDecember 2023

Happy holidays! I write to you now from the day after Thanksgiving, Black Friday. A troublesome term to say the least.

For me, it’s always been the official beginning of the Christmas season. Of course, it’s the beginning of all sorts of different holiday seasons for all sorts of different people. Happy holidays to everyone!

I’m going to talk about the holidays from the working musicians’ perspective today.

I’ve always loved Christmas. As a kid it was a magical time for me because my mom knew how to make it that way! When my daughter was born, I tried to do the same. We’ve had a lot of wonderful holidays! I would never trade them for anything!

I’ve made my living as a musician for 27 years now and as I look back on the years, I realize that even though I love the holidays, there’s always just a bit of terror involved as well.

As an original music guy, there aren’t a lot of shows happening or really anything happening during the holidays. Original music kind of shuts down except for an odd Christmas show here and there. Luckily, for lots of musicians, there are tons of opportunities to play Christmas carols and Christmas parties as cover bands and tribute acts! That’s a wonderful thing that I hope continues!

The thing is, the holidays represent a time when money is to be spent “creating magic.” It’s baked into our culture for better or for worse and I would never want that to change. I love how family and friends give to each other aspect of Christmas in every way!

I remember feeling like I needed to spend money on lots of things to create the right atmosphere. People spend thousands and thousands of dollars at Christmas time. For musicians it can be pretty tough to have to spend all of that extra money creating magic for the holidays. It’s a huge expenditure at the end of the year that takes months to recover from at the beginning of the next year.

Generally, I spend a couple of months of income on gift giving and buying lights and trees and food and booze and travel, and and and and and…. the feeling of giving is so wonderful, and we are all better off from it in every way except financially.

Our culture and financial well-being as a nation seems to hinge completely on how well we do at Christmas time. The revenue involved is an anchor for every business. At this point, I’m not sure some could stay afloat without a big Christmas! I’m not an economist. I don’t know how to change that. It sure would be cool if we could somehow retain the spirit of giving without having to go into debt for two or three months every year.

Now, listen, I don’t want to cancel Christmas. This is not a war on the holidays in any way. What I really want to do here is to say “hey, musicians, it’s okay to not break the bank at Christmas time.” There are lots of inexpensive ways to create magic. I mean, come on, you’re an artist! We make cool stuff all the time! Why can’t we figure out a way to make things that would have so much more value to the people who are receiving them? The answer, of course, is that people do it all the time.

There is a bit of a trap that we all fall into at Christmas time. I know I’ve always reserved that time for buying expensive electronics or other items that I might be able to afford more in July than I would in December. Maybe we don’t have to spend all that money at once? Maybe we could buy those things that our family need throughout the year when we have enough money. What if we reserve Christmas for togetherness and thoughtful, homemade, cheap as fuck Christmas gifts?

The answer to that question for me is that I always thought that Christmas magic was equal to the money spent and I was so wrong. I do think we grow up expecting a lot from Christmas. We expect a lot of our folks and family. The story of Santa Claus is really a way for kids to not actually know what their parents are doing for them. There are two sides to that, but one of them is that kids don’t get a realistic view until it slaps them in the face. Once we’re grown, that expectation shifts to our own hearts and minds. We expect so much of ourselves, but the truth is most people would love a simple, handmade card or some kind of thoughtful gesture that shows that you know them and love them very much. If there is money to be spent, why not hire a local artist? I bet you’d get a good deal! Just open your mind to the possibilities, you’ll be surprised at the amazing magic you can conjure!

My Christmas gift to you is to say it’s okay to not fall into the money trap at Christmas time. Search your heart and give gifts from there.

I made this column just for you. Happy holidays!

Love,
Jeff

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