People bemoan the commercialism of Christmas each and every year. Trouble is we all perpetuate it year after year by buying and buying and buying….trying to ‘outdo’ ourselves year over year, paying for it during the forthcoming year….and many times just imagining that anyone else really ‘expects’ it to be done. I opened only two gifts this year….a tea press set and a bacon flavored candy cane garnished with a package of bacon. I’m just as happy with today as if I’d been buried in a pile of packages and told I had to unwrap my way out.
I have, for the last several years, spent Christmas with my in-law family. Usually we are at the home of my mother- and father-in- law in New Jersey. This year, in order for my sister- and brother-in- law to be included, we all went to Vermont for the holiday. The agreement that the adults came to was that renting a place sizeable enough for all of us was our gift to each other and we would therefore just buy for the children. Their loot pile under the tree was really no less than the norm for them, and it took them a full hour to open it all, with squeals of delight as they ripped apart the paper surrounding package after package.
On the second Christmas that my father was no longer living with us my mother made a valiant effort to minimize the downsizing of the family by giving us lots of ‘stuff’ under the tree. There were many brightly wrapped packages, tons of the chunky 1960’s and 1970’s supersized light bulbs with silvery tinsel melted to them (the smell I associate with Christmas), lots of glittery glass bulbs hanging from the branches….and yet she could not provide us with the one thing that any of us really wanted and likely would have traded anything else she’d given to us (or rather that Santa had brought) for…..Dad. He was in the next town over, nursing his own wounds over the fracture of the family.
My sister had been very despondent over Dad moving out….to the point of nastiness in her interactions with the rest of us. Christmas Eve came, and in the wee small hours of the morning she, armed with her laundry basket, loaded up all her gifts and took them upstairs to her room to open them herself, rather than with our mother and her two brothers. Her expression of gratitude that year was ‘Is that it?’. The look on my mother’s face was a mixture of frustration, anger, and defeat.
Mom wasn’t the only one who tried to make Christmas better, or at least less awful, for someone with ‘stuff’…I tried to do the same for her for several years, thinking that one day the tree would be ‘just right’ or there would be ‘enough’ under the tree to mollify her disdain and eventual hatred of Christmas. I learned, after a few years, you don’t buy someone’s happiness for Christmas…there is no price tag on simply enjoying each other and being together, and it doesn’t take a pile of presents or shiny paper or glittering ornaments to be ‘festive’.
Even without spending a lot of money, there is still a lot of magic to be found in Christmas. A small bag of oats mixed with some glitter becomes ‘magic reindeer food’ that we sprinkled outside the rented guest house last night to ensure Santa’s sleigh found us all. The ‘perfect tree’ can be simply some cast-off boughs stuck upright in a metal plant pot with one strand of multi-colored lights strategically and carefully strung in between the needles. The most beautiful angel tree topper can be a paper plate creation with a pencil drawn face hanging at an odd angle that resembles a pedestrian texting as they walk along. The brightest ornaments are crafted by scrunching up aluminum foil into balls and finding something to ‘hang’ them with on the boughs.
None of us, individually, really ‘spoiled’ the children this year. Certainly they had plenty to open under the tree, and Santa left a note for the boys telling them that the ‘blue’ packages were for David, and the ‘red’ ones for Aiden, but always check for a name-tag before opening anything, as I knew there were packages there, all in red paper, that could have been for either one of them. They followed Santa’s instructions well, and there were no mishaps….save for one potential situation that was diffused easily enough.
One of the ‘bigger’ purchases for the boys this year was a brand new game system. The box for that was wrapped in red paper, and the ‘joysticks’ were wrapped in blue. The packages were taped together in the hopes that they’d understand it was for both of them. Aiden, however, had other plans, and claimed the game system as ‘HIS’ since it was wrapped in red. He quickly got to a frustrated state as we tried to explain that it was probably for both of them. Seeing this as nothing but potential disaster for the day, we all agreed it was best to table the issue for the moment. I informed the boys, verified and agreed upon by the other grown ups present, that there was a website I could verify anything Santa had left without a tag that was in question, and I’d do so shortly. I made my way slyly upstairs, opened my laptop, and quickly set up a bogus email account on yahoo. A quickly drafted email later, sent to my legit email account, settled the matter for the boys.
It looked like this:
From: SantaClaus GiftConfirm
Subject: Game Console
Thanks for your inquiry – The Wii was actually meant to be for both your good boys Aiden and David, and I’m sure they will play nicely with it. Please let me know if they have trouble with this.
Merry Christmas to you all, and the reindeers really enjoyed the food….tell the boys thank you!
The boys were satisfied enough with this technological confirmation of the gift being for both of them, and now I have definitive proof that this is the case (at least as long as I can retain the email, and they buy my line of bullshit).
A few hours later and some are relaxing with the t.v. – some playing with new toys, or listening to music….whatever they want.
Me? I’m sitting here typing on my blog…enjoying the fact that we are all together again this year…that the boys have another large family Christmas to look back on as they grow. A Christmas where, hopefully, they learned that Christmas doesn’t really ‘HAVE’ to be anything in particular…it can be special just by being whatever you make it with your makeshift tree and ornaments…..and blessing another year, what might be the last one for Aiden as he’ll be 9 next Christmas, when the boys both still believe that Santa Claus is very, very real.
Just hopefully not so real that he drops by later today to bust me for identity theft in trying to diffuse a fight over a Wii.
Merry Christmas (or whatever you celebrate) to one and all.