Christmas Present

Regardless of which version of history you believe and what holiday(s) you do or do not celebrate, I think it’s worthwhile to have a “winding down” of the year during which we shift focus from frenzied work and socialization to calm time with family and friends–and with ourselves in quiet reflection.

For me, it goes kind of like this:  work extra hard for weeks getting ready to be (mostly) out of the office; run like mad for a couple of days to get ready to go visit family; spend a day traveling; relax, unwind, and enjoy being with people I love for a day and a half; discover when I relax that I am exhausted and require frequent naps; spend a day traveling back home; collapse and relax (relatively) quietly until New Year’s Eve, reflecting on the past year and working on some sort of self-discovery that I optimistically believe will lead to life-improvement.

The time with family and the week “off” between Christmas and New Year’s Eve are the times that matter most to me.  I’ve given up on massive consumerism in favor of minimizing the gifts and enjoying the visit.  For gifts, I go with silly stocking stuffers and money for my college-aged nephews.

Tisen is the only one I go overboard on.  I bought him a fleece that fits him like a dress, a bigger Lamb Chop, and some treats.  He’s easy to buy for and he thinks every gift is perfect.

Oddly, now that Christmas is so much easier (stocking stuffers for 4 and money for 2; I don’t even do cards anymore), it’s less enjoyable.  Having removed the majority of the consumerism from the holiday seems to have also removed much of the potential thrill.

After all, the best gift I ever got wasn’t a gift I received, it was the gift of having thought of the perfect gift for someone else.  It truly is the thought that counts–but I want the thought to be “I know you; I see you; I love you as you are.” Not “you really need this thing you’ve never heard of because I think you do.”  Or, “I have no idea what you would want, so thank you for making a list.”

Gone is the feeling of connectedness and belonging that comes along with knowing someone else so well or at least having paid close enough attention that you came up with that perfect gift for them.

On the flip side, after years of failing to think of the perfect gift for the people I love, I go in with realistic expectations and come out without disappointment.

Perhaps the secret is not tying the spiritual calming of year end reflection and time with loved ones to gift giving.  Perhaps we could give gifts when the perfect idea presents itself instead of based on a date on the calendar.  Then the only problem is if the perfect idea never comes.

Christmas Aftermath and Unabashed Silliness

I repeat the start of yesterday, rising before the sun and sitting alone in the living room watching the lights on the tree.  But this morning, I reflect on Christmas yesterday.  The remnants of wrapping paper remain on the floor.  I have yet to turn on the news to see if world peace was achieved.

Instead, I think about the crazy toys we picked out for my nephews, 18 and 19 years old.  We got funny whistles that play when they are turned over and the whistle slides through a tube.  I laugh as I recall my nephews trying to synchronize their whistles to play a chord.

We also got them a Pokey and a Gumby–I was pleased when each took a few moments to contort them into ridiculous poses.  But my favorite was when they opened the cheap mustache kits and each adhered a fake mustache to their faces.  The oldest resembled Charlie Chaplin with the thick, squarish mustache he picked out and the youngest looked like a silent movie villain with the skinny mustache he tried on.

While we did get them each a gift they wanted in addition to these silly finds, I suspect it will be these toys they remember with a smile when they tell their kids about the Christmases they had.

I grow serious for a moment and do a mental check on how I did with judging.  I am pleased that I noticed every time I was judgmental.  I think about what triggered a judgmental response and recognize that I am guilty of the things I judge the most harshly.  I am reminded of a friend of mine who told me he was a horrible gay basher until he came out of the closet.  As if we somehow distance ourselves from our own guilt by harshly condemning others for what we want most to hide about ourselves.  Hypocrisy is not my friend.

I wonder for a moment if “coming out of the closet” about my own secrets would somehow free me from this tendency to judge.  But I recall that my friend did not leave his judgments behind by revealing his sexual orientation; rather he changed sides on who he thought was right and wrong.  Perhaps he was ashamed of having been cruel.

Rather than follow in my friend’s footsteps, then, I decide I will simply stay with noticing when I am judging and letting it go.  This was quite effective yesterday.  Instead of getting worked up and angry, I simply noticed I was judging and moved on.  It may have been my most peaceful (and silly) Christmas yet.

I’m happy with my progress even if it wasn’t perfect.  I was freed to focus on creating silliness in the here and now instead of talking about (and getting upset about) things in the past or things imagined.

I decide I need to amend my wish for this holiday season:  peace, love, joy, and unabashed silliness.

Playing Santa

‘Tis the season to be jolly, fa la la la la la la la.

Demonstrate our great folly, fa la la la la la la la la.

Ah, Christmas.  Where did the magic go?  The days when I used to agonize over the perfect gift, going store to store to store–returning home frustrated and desperately in need of a nap.  I would put up decorations, wrap every gift with homemade bows.  And I always, always sent Christmas cards.

Then, the circle of friends with whom I exchanged Christmas gifts started to shrink.  As we grew older, there were fewer things we wouldn’t just buy for ourselves if we wanted them.  Besides the occasional bottle of wine in a reusable, decorative bag, we were down to just exchanging gifts with family.

Then, my family had what I like to think of as the “epiphany Christmas.”  We realized that we didn’t know what to get each other and it was silly, as adults to be making lists.  We called a truce on gift buying and agreed just to get the kids gifts.  This simplified shopping and allowed us to focus on the boys, who really made Christmas fun.

But then, my nephews seemed to lose their enthusiasm.  They used to try to stay awake all night so they could catch Santa; now they sleep later and later on Christmas morning.  They used to carefully open each toy, set it aside and play with the box for so long that we’d have to remind them to open the next gift if we wanted to finish in time for lunch.  Now, gift opening barely lasts a half an hour.  And their wish lists get shorter each year.  Until, finally, the youngest stop producing them all together, preferring to be “surprised.”

I have to agree that wish lists feel like cheating.  There’s something really special about a gift that says someone was paying attention to the things you’re interested in or, even better, found the perfect symbol of something special between the two of you.  I love giving gifts when I know I thought of something only I could have thought of and only the receiver can appreciate.  Even if it’s a silly, cheap gift, when it feels like the exact right gift, it really is magical.

The problem is it’s impossible to think of that perfect gift for everyone I know (and remember what it was).  In fact, if I don’t see someone regularly, the probability that I’ll have any clue as to what to give them is so small that it depresses me.  The thought that I know so little about what my father, step mother, brother, sister-in-law, nephews, friends, etc have and don’t have, need and don’t need, want and don’t want serves to remind me that I haven’t been paying enough attention.

Perhaps that will be my New Year’s Resolution–to know the people I love well enough to think of the perfect gift for each of them.