what gifts are for

December 26, 2012 Candace Morris 3 Comments

"What can I say except that it's Christmas and we're all in misery."
Helen Griswold

I almost always wake up the day after Christmas with a mixed bag of relief and disillusionment.  After a long debriefing phone call this morning with Jackie, my favorite mother of four and who swears that December 26 is the best day of the year, I have spent some time unpacking the post-Christmas hangover.  

As I wander about the quiet house, picking up scraps of wrapping paper and peeling tape off the bottom of my slippers, I ask...what is the motivation for the commercial aspect of Christmas?  Why do I buy gifts for people?  I send gifts to kids who seriously do not need another present, so why bother?  Is it obligation, and if so, is this obligation soulless?  As I ponder raising a child, I am trying to imagine ways to give her a well-rounded Christmas experience outside of a frenzy of gifts that make her greedy for more and more and more.  
I want her to know magical evenings looking at the fire and listening to carols and watching snowfall.  
I want her to find giddy pleasure in twinkle lights.
I want her to ponder the cultural significance of the Christ story.
I want her to contemplate the love and goodness in her life.
I want her to know how deeply satisfying it is to do something for someone else.
I want her to believe in all the magic the season has to offer.
I want her to know the moving story of the gift Gpa bought for Gma when they were newlyweds and had no money.
I want her to listen for reindeer. 
I want her to dream about peppermint candies and whipped cream and hot chocolate.
I want her to know the security that there will always be something for her to open on Christmas morning, that she will never be hungry or cold.

I don't want to demonize gifts or the awesome feeling of tons of presents.  But any time, as with any aspect of life, if balance isn't restored, the meaning behind our actions and traditions will be lost.

And we all know what a meaning whore I am.

So what are gifts for?  What part do they play in Christmas?  For me, I send these gifts to my nephews and nieces (who don't need another gift by any means) because I want them to know their Aunt Candi.  I want them to know how I regret not being in their daily lives.  I want them to look back on birthdays and holidays and remember that Aunt Candi, even though she was far away and could have easily forgotten and they wouldn't have noticed, always remembered and celebrated.

They are an intimate gesture, hopefully an entirely selfless one, of "I know you of old" and nothing feels better than the reciprocity of intimacy from someone you have poured your precious one life into loving...that they indeed know and love you back.  They are intended to bring joy, wonder, surprise   They are there to fulfill a need, to remove another item from someone's 'to do' list.  They are way to express support, to say I love you, therefore I love what you love by spending my precious time and hard-earned money to learn about your interests and get you something you would like in an effort to remind you of the secure and certain place you and only you hold in my heart. They are there to encourage your sister whose life has been inordinately hard the past few years.  They are there to soften an old man's hard heart because he lost his wife to cancer.  They are given to remind your best friend to take care of herself. They are there to tell your daughter that your life isn't the same when she's away at college and you are so glad she's home.  They are there to restore a clergyman's teetering faith because someone was listening to his homilys all those Sundays to give generously and love unquestioningly.  They are given to tell your wife that all the hours at the office were only and always for her. They are a bridge between a brother and sister who have never understood each other.  They are there to make your over-worked father laugh. They are a lesson to your niece that imagination is her best friend.  They provide a way for a man to say to his brother and best friend, "I've missed you!"

Yes, we could say all of these things to the people we love, but I think presents express for us what we have no words to say.  There is a difference between telling your niece to pretend to be a prima ballerina and buying her a tutu to do just that.  Gifts are tangible, solid gold love.

Gifts bring into strong focus the people in our lives, the people we look at and interact with and have baggage with, but with whom we often forget to truly see in the murk of daily life. Our lover who we would commit to all over again in a heartbeat.  Our friends who guide us toward self-forgiveness and kindness.  Our pets and children who break down our calloused, protected hearts and make us into saps.  Our parents who break their backs to connect with us - even if it doesn't always work.  Our siblings who travel to us, text us, Skype us, and email us in order to make sure the relationship stays strong.  Our grandparents who have hugged us harder than anyone in our whole lives.  Our coworkers who sneak into our hearts and become friends that make you laugh and think.  Our postman who carries our business daily.   Our barista who happily makes our Americano.  Our massage therapist who helps your body heal itself.

But how can we spend the necessary time and money on people if our holiday seasons are too busy?  Aren't the activities of this season supposed to be fun and not stressful?  I am reflecting today on how I can make my holidays even more simple, more soulful.  I think the answer lies in the art of saying no.

All I want for Christmas is peace.  
Make it so,

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