It’s not a punishment.
I’m not a Scrooge—I love Christmas. A lot.
You should see my house.
For real, it’s like an enchanted Christmas village in here: mistletoe, gingerbread house, tinsel, the whole deal. I’m also not trying to be one of those smug people who like to talk about how they only give especially meaningful homemade gifts out of found objects, which they start making around July, naturally. These are the same people who like to brag that they don’t have TVs. I’m so not one of those people. I totally have a TV.
Now, if only I had time to actually watch it.
And therein lies my problem with Christmas, and more specifically, the giving of a lot of gifts.
I’m too busy and I’m too tired. I believe that we are all too busy and too tired this time of year and when we’re too tired and too busy, we rush. We become miserable. The most magical time of year becomes a chore. We begin to harbor resentment. Worse, we start creating a lot of expectations. Expectations lead to disappointment. Christmas then can never be perfect enough.
Several years ago I began to have a recurring nightmare. In the dream it’s always Christmas Eve and no one has done anything to prepare for the holiday. There’s no food, no tree, no gifts, no carols, nothing. My dream self panics. I must save Christmas. It’s all on my shoulders and I begin to hurry, trying to put together an idyllic Christmas for my family with no cooperation. I run into a Wal-mart (I told you it was a nightmare) to get presents and find the shelves bare and the employees all wanting to go home. In the end, I am unable to save Christmas. I wake up in a cold sweat, choking, heart pounding.
The meaning of the dream eluded me for a long time. I asked a dream interpreter who responded that it seemed to be a dream about disappointment and that struck a chord. It was a dream about perfectionism and those pesky expectations again and as much as the dream was metaphorical, it was also literal. That really was how I acted every Christmas.
Each December, I found myself overdoing it, trying to fit everything in, spending too much money in a desperate attempt to create the image of the ideal Christmas. I can’t tell you how many years I’d collapse in fevers by New Year’s Day from the sheer exhaustion of it all and when I became a parent, it only got worse.
Now, I felt I had a responsibility to give my daughter a dream Christmas. We did everything: every festival, every party, every new arrival of Santa. We saw parades of marching bands and even parades of decorated boats. There were nutcrackers and cookie exchanges, rooms filled with expertly wrapped gifts. Junk was everywhere.
Last year I realized I was tired of it. I still loved Christmas, but the running from event to event wore me out, and mostly I realized what was draining me was the shopping.
The day after Thanksgiving, I didn’t stand in any lines to get anything. My daughter does not need an Elmo that hugs her or a million pieces of junk with princesses all over them made by sweatshop factory workers in China. I decided that day to dial down Christmas and make it a happier, calmer experience for my entire family.
I wasn’t getting my kid any presents.
Don’t worry, my daughter is in no way deprived and remember, she still has grandparents. This kid will get plenty of presents this year, and yes, I did get her a nice, big stocking and I filled it with all kinds of small, cool things that kids love like sparkly lip balm and nail polish, bandages with characters on them. Somehow I managed to fit a princess calendar in there too, as well as some M&Ms, which are big time treats in this house. She’s not getting nothing. Santa will still make a visit.
It’s just that the focus of the day won’t be a morning of tearing into mountains of presents that will be overwhelming. When kids have too much stuff, they don’t remember what they have. They don’t appreciate it. Excess creates disregard.
When I think back on my own childhood, I recall very few gifts, but what I do remember? The time I spent with my family and friends and how much fun that was. I remember my grandmother wearing silly Santa hats to make us laugh and how we always made my grandfather a mince pie and he was the only one who’d touch it. He liked fruit cake too. Yuck! I remember getting rowdy with my cousins and candlelight services at church. Stuff? Not so much.
My daughter will be the same way. So what will she get for Christmas? Presence. Mine.
Because in all the running, all the shopping and wrapping and getting caught up in the consumerism of Christmas, I was absent even when I was physically there.
You may wonder how our Christmas might look minus a bunch of gifts.
On Christmas Eve we’re having some close family and friends over. We’ll snack and the kids will play. We’ll gather them together when they get tired and sing carols. I’ll mull cider. There will be laughter like bells. When everyone leaves, I’ll take my daughter for a ride to look at Christmas lights and hunt for nativity scenes in front of churches.
We’ll sleep in (I hope) and awake to bake orange flavored cinnamon rolls. We’ll discover the treats in the stocking and watch Christmas movies in our jammies before heading to church to watch my friend, a soloist, sing Christmas songs. She sings like an angel.
Cousins playing in the backyard will follow a big lunch at my sister’s. There will be more music, more Christmas movies, reminiscing, giggling, memories and photographs.
Later, we’re going to our neighbor’s house. He makes an incredible seafood bisque each Christmas. We’ll be stuffed, but we’ll find room for a few more bites. Since we live in Florida and he has a heated pool, more than likely we will go swimming on Christmas night and if you’ve never done that, I assure you, it’s pretty magical. Before bedtime, we will read stories and give thanks for the abundance in our lives.
Our holiday will be filled with hugs and love and phone calls to distant relatives. Instead of making clutter, we’ll truly be making merry. Will my daughter lack a thing? Of course not.
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Editor: Bryonie Wise