It’s Christmas morning, 1997. Not a creature is stirring – except for my younger brother and sister, who’ve crept into my room to whisper excitedly about the presents that appeared overnight. Our family doesn’t do Santa. We know that Mom and Dad put those presents there last night after we’d gone to bed, after watching our traditional Christmas Eve movie (A Christmas Story). But where they came from doesn’t matter. At 12, I find presents less enthralling than my eight- and seven-year-old siblings, but even my angsty middle school heart thumps at the thought of what those red-and-green-wrapped treasure boxes hold.
Every Christmas of my childhood plays out almost the same way, and these memories make Christmas the holiday that it is to me.
Now, before we get too far into this nostalgic defense of holiday commercialism, I need to say a couple things. First, my family didn’t have buckets of money lying around. I don’t know what my parents sacrificed to give us those piles of presents when we were little. It must have been tough. I’m not coming to this post with oblivious privilege. Second, my college self would’ve rolled her eyes at what I’m about to defend. In fact, at the ripe old age of 20, I wrote a fairly scathing indictment of Christmas greed and how “it’s not about presents” and blah blah blah. (College, amiright?)
But here goes: I’m getting my kid stuff for Christmas. Lots of stuff.
I’ve noticed a trend around the holidays lately. “Minimalism” reigns supreme. It’s all over my social media feeds: eschewing tangible gifts for experiences or limiting your gift-giving to a singsong rhyme. I got caught up in it when Arthur was a newborn, proclaiming that we would follow the so-called “four gift rule.” This way, I thought, we would eliminate the stress of holiday gift-giving and be able to give Arthur really meaningful, quality presents instead of brightly-colored junk.
In reality? I love giving gifts. Also, babies and toddlers don’t care about meaningful gifts. They like brightly-colored junk.
My love language is gifts. I love to give and receive. But it goes beyond the tangible artifact itself to represent the thought behind the gift. I see a mug with corgis wearing snow hats, and I think of some family friends who own a corgi and would love it. Finding the perfect present or card for every occasion genuinely makes me happy. It’s not about the thing itself but about what the thing means.
Of all the Christmases of my childhood, I remember maybe only a handful of the gifts themselves. A Cabbage Patch Doll here and there, a bike when I was around seven. But what I do remember is the anticipation, the buildup overnight of what my parents had come up with for the year.
More than that, I remember Christmas itself:
My younger siblings waking up too early to talk about what might be under the tree.
Opening our stockings before our parents woke up, pulling out the comic book, chocolate coins, Pez dispenser, and huge orange that filled the toe – that Dad would later use as a garnish for his traditional Christmas breakfast (and that no one ate).
Christmas breakfast! My dad making French toast from scratch every year and pairing it with homemade maple syrup (with pecans). Plus corned beef hash, sausage and bacon, and eggnog.
My dad reading the Christmas story to us before we opened gifts. When I was two, he hand-illustrated and calligraphed the Biblical account of Jesus’s birth, using Scripture from Old and New Testament to explain the reason we celebrate. (We still read the same book every year, though the reader now changes.)
And one of my favorite memories: my mom searching frantically for the list she kept of our gifts. Every year, she’d number the presents rather than writing our names on them, and some years, she’d misplace the list and have to guess who got what.
I’m spoiling my kid for Christmas, but it’s not in the way you think.
I’m spoiling him with tangible gifts that represent the season’s best intentions: love, charity, giving, thoughtfulness, kindness, and joy. We don’t give gifts to teach a lesson or prove a point (I hope). We give gifts because it’s fun and it makes people happy. Does Arthur need another piece of Paw Patrol licensed merchandise? Of course not. But I want to give him the same sense of joy I feel when I wake up on Christmas, even though I’m well past the age when I get piles of presents myself.