Presence Before Presents: This Mom’s Aim to Gift What Lasts


Presence Before Presents

I’m going out on a limb in thinking I’m not alone here, but I really LOVE the holidays. I love almost everything about them: the music, the lights, the baking, the parties, the extra pleasantness to and from people. I love the seasonal lattes — I mean I think it’s safe to say that the taste of gingerbread in a hot frothy cup is a genuine Christmas miracle. I love annual holiday movie rituals. Knowing every perfect word uttered by Randy Quaid in ‘Christmas Vacation’ took some real commitment, my friends.

Now what I do not love, unsurprisingly, is my seasonal weight gain and (gasp) gift giving.

Amidst my earnest feelings of joy and good will toward men, there comes a mounting feeling of dread as drool slowly leaks out of the corners of my mouth while endlessly scrolling Amazon trying to figure out what to buy each year. And physically walking through retail stores during the holiday frenzy sends my anxiety through the stratosphere.

Simply put, gifting is not my gift. 

Granted my memory isn’t what it was before two kids and four years of chronic sleep deprivation, but even after a considerable effort, I could only really recall one specific gift I received as a child. I must have been around ten when my favorite uncle gave me a small karaoke machine, which included a bonus cassette of Mariah Carey’s newest hits. But beyond this gift that started my failed music career, my memories of childhood Christmas gifts are hazy and tied to photographic evidence. Incidentally, if anyone I know finds themselves in need of a killer rendition of ‘Dreamlover,’ look no further. I accept payment in forms of puppies, extra dark chocolate, and Benedict Cumberbatch wrapped in a Christmas bow (we get a celebrity pass at Christmas right?!).

What I DO remember with absolute clarity is baking holiday candy every year with my Nan, and late night whispers between my cousins during Christmas Eve sleepovers. I remember going to look at Christmas lights with my brothers on the fancy side of town. My parents drove us up and down those streets in that awful rust bucket of a station wagon, while we tried hard not to spill our Swiss Miss in the back seat after one of its routine backfires. And I can still see my grandparents’ tree which was always embarrassingly too big for the room, weighed down by colored huge bulbs, and covered in an obscene amount of garish silver tinsel. One of my dearest possessions is an old Santa ornament that hung on their tree and now hangs on my own. It serves as my very own ‘Ghost of Christmas Past,’ embodying deeply held memories of time spent with those I’ve loved the most.


So when I sat down a few years ago to begin the familiar obligatory list-making and swallowed a few tumblers of spiked soy nog to ease my apprehension, I found myself thinking of a different approach to Christmas for our family. I began to plan a few simple changes I could employ each holiday season enabling us to worry a little less about what to buy, what sales are happening when, and endless wrapping (gah, the wrapping), and instead focus on building the kind of Christmas experience I want my boys to remember.soynog

Stepping away from the glitter porn.

Limiting exposure to the barrage of holiday advertisement can work wonders in managing children’s expectations. Opting for on-demand streaming entertainment over cable television will shield kids from relentless advertising. Leaving kiddos at home whenever possible for shopping trips will also help reduce their vulnerability to the minefield of kid-centric product placements on every aisle giving way to the powerful feelings of insatiable want. Additionally, limiting the number of gifts to request from Santa allows for more intentional gift giving. 

A Family Affair.

Get grandparents and doting aunts and uncles on board by suggesting an annual family outing when they ask what to get the kids for Christmas. Taking the time to include your family in building holiday traditions will be a joy to everyone. Kids will love to look forward to an annual hot chocolate date with Nana and Pop or family ice skating. Picking out a new ornament every year, or building on a collection that is unique to your child and long distance family members, are just a couple of suggestions to get your extended family involved in minimizing excess and creating lasting memories.

Honesty is a Gift.

Managing my children’s scope of Christmas has enabled me to get the gifting under control and concentrate on what I love the most about the Holidays. And by simply admitting to my friends and loved ones that I just sorta suck at gift giving, I was able to offer what I do quite well. I’m much more capable at expressing my love by baking for them, planning a dinner, or showing up at their door with coffee. Telling my husband that I would much prefer planning a weekend away with him than fretting over Christmas presents has given us something fun to plan together. My honesty has also saved him from trying not to act disappointed by my very often bizarre gift ideas. Last year I gave him a lion’s head bottle opener (our last name is Lyons). I thought it was hilarious; he failed to share the sentiment. You can find this wondrous piece of kitsch at World Market for under $10. You’re Welcome.


Now here’s the beautiful thing — some people are truly gifted gift givers. I know a few. And I simultaneously love and hate them for their uniquely tailored gift giving prowess (I’m looking at you Heidi and Sara). I like to imagine a perfectly jolly world where those of us who aren’t the best gift givers give up the struggle, letting those who are shine and focus on what we bring to the party. Finding the perfect balance would be the cherry atop the fruitcake.

Happy Holidays Everyone!