I LOVE Christmas presents! I know that, at this age, I am supposed to be embarrassed to admit that, but it is so true. Even as my hair gets more gray every year, that is one part of being a kid that has never left me. I still get downright squirrely the moment I wake up on Christmas morning, eager to skip the breakfast formalities and get right to the gifts. It is all I can do to keep from shoving everyone—my wife, kids, siblings, nieces, nephews, in-laws, and my parents–down the stairs to their spots on the sofas and chairs so we can start distributing the mountains of gifts piled under and around the tree.
Christmas—and my giddiness about the presents—has always been this way at my house. I had a few friends growing up who got cool stuff at random times all through the year, and Christmas was no big deal to them. They got a few presents, just like any other week out shopping with their parents. Ho hum. We were NOT that family! My parents pinched pennies all year long—“Better ask for it for your birthday,” and “Put it on your Christmas List” were familiar refrains—but they went all-out on those two special days. Tons of presents and a real effort to make it a special day. And it was!
My anticipation for Christmas was feverish. The day before was always a rollercoaster of emotions: a kind of ecstatic elation about its nearness mixed with the absolute torment of waiting. Like rabid dogs, my siblings and I would crawl through the piles around the tree and oh-so-carefully slide underneath it, squeezing and shaking each gift, guessing at the contents of each and, of course, making a tally of how many each kid was getting. Finally, in the evening, after hours of begging, we were allowed to open one present—ONE—always the one from my cousins. It was a momentary thrill, but hardly enough to assuage my wild urges to tear through the wrappings under the tree to see if my guesses were correct. I salivated over the thought of new toys. The frenzy in my mind made for a tough time getting to sleep on Christmas Eve, and from the moment I woke up on Christmas morning, I was like a maniac, just DYING to get to the presents.
The years have passed, and though the extremes of my torment and elation have been tamed a bit, I still get giddy in anticipation of diving into the presents. It is a unique delight to tear open that wrapping paper on Christmas morning to discover the new treats that will sparkle up my life in the coming year. I guess that is the one way that I am a classic American: I love more stuff! I often feel a bit guilty about how much I enjoy it. But, since the guilt hasn’t made the feeling go away, I have decided to claim it. I am a materialist.
A funny thing has happened on the way to my middle adulthood, though. As much as I appreciate the spine-tingling anticipation and excitement for the presents, as the years pass by, I recognize more and more that what I mostly love is the time with my family. It is true that I have always loved it this way—indeed, I have never missed a Christmas at my childhood home with my family, even when I had to quit my job to be there—but only in recent years have I been so keenly aware of its value to me. It was always there, quietly wallpapering the scene of those Christmas Eve games and those wild Christmas morning gift-a-paloozas, but I couldn’t recognize it as such in my greedy haze. I feel it now, and I acknowledge and honor the feeling.
I guess I have come to the point where I can see that the real point of the holiday—or at least the thing I value the most (by far)—is the fellowship, the love for the people I am gathered with (and the ones in my heart) rather than all of the presents that seem to dominate the months of lead-up. Think about this, friend: we have a whole season of shopping and then a whole day of togetherness. I really wish that could be reversed.
I am so glad that I have come to this awareness, this realization, before it is too late. No one has died and left me wishing I had truly cherished the time we had. My family seems to be—knock on wood—in its prime. My parents and siblings are all healthy and enjoy spending time together. We look forward to our Christmas all year as that time to be together under one roof with no agenda. It is simply about being together. And it is the best. I am beyond grateful for that.
What warms my heart even more, however, is that my kids love it just as much as I do. Their two favorite weeks of the year are the Christmas week with their cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents, and then, of course, their week at the family lake cabin in the Summer, where the very same crew is assembled. All year long they talk about how they can’t wait to go back to both places. Not coincidentally, those are my two favorite weeks, too. Birds of a feather, we surely are. I am grateful for everything about our life together. The very best part, though, is that it is just that: TOGETHER.
I guess that is why my grown-up self loves Christmas so much. It is the chance to reclaim with my family of origin what I get with my own little gang everyday: togetherness. The fact that I get them both simultaneously—and that my little birds also appreciate them so much—well, that makes the whole deal simply perfect. That togetherness, that presence, is all the gift I need. It is, indeed, a merry, happy, and most grateful Christmas for me!
How about you? What do you value most about the holidays? Open up your journal and think about what makes you giddy and what warms your heart. How excited do the presents make you? How has that changed as you have aged? Do you make a big Wish List? Is there anything you are on pins and needles about this year, something you are really hoping for? Overall, what is the level of importance placed on the “gift” aspect of the holidays in your family? Would you prefer it be more or less important? What about the “togetherness” part? Is the fellowship with your loved ones a big part of your holiday gatherings? How much do you look forward to the time? Is this the one time of the year you gather with these people? Do you do it out of tradition, obligation, pure desire, or some mix of those? Which one is the strongest factor? Has the togetherness aspect become more or less important as you have aged? If you had 100 percentage points to divide between them to show the value you place on Togetherness vs. Gifts, how many points would each get? Are there other things that deserve points on your scale, such as religion or food? Leave me a reply and let me know: What makes your holiday happiest?
May your days be merry,
P.S. If this made you smile, cry, or wonder a little bit, feel free to share it with a friend who could use some of that today. Namaste.