On CNN today, I heard Suze Orman answer the following question:  "We have no money and considerable credit card debt. Should we dip into our paltry emergency fund to pay for Christmas for the kids?"

What a sad commentary on our culture.  No, you should not spend money you might need for food on a transformer.  How do we live in a society where this is even a question?

I have no doubt that that parent is miserably thinking about how her kids will feel when all their classmates have new Christmas presents, and they have nothing to show.  What makes me mad is that we've created an environment where the most magical thing that can happen to a child is to be given a few pieces of plastic glued together in China.

I know that my parents expended a lot of precious money and time on my Christmas gifts.  But with a few exceptions (a certain Raggedy Ann and Andy Pen and Pencil Set comes to mind, along with my very own Beach Boys "Endless Summer" casette"), what I remember about Christmases is not what I was given, but the non-material traditions:  the food, the family, the snow angels and crackling fires.  This is true of basically everyone I know.  So why do we continue to think that the gifts are the most important part?

The only good thing that I can possibly think of about this financial crisis is that it may break the rat race of constantly ratcheting consumption, which has surrounded most Americans with nice things that don't really make them happy.  There's absolutely nothing wrong with buying whatever you want, when you have the money to afford it.  But when you start thinking that you need toys and television sets to have a happy life, we're all in trouble.

Update:  Dr. Boli, as always, for the save.

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