“It’s not about the gifts.”
Someone will say this every holiday season. That Christmas isn’t about the presents. That it’s about Jesus’ birthday (my family is Christian), time spent with loved ones, gratefulness to be alive and blessed and loved, appreciation blah blah blah and all those other sentiments we should already have every other day of the year anyway. Kinda like Thanksgiving, the holiday whose name implies that we should be spending the day testifying to what we are thankful for, but all anyone really cares about is where they gonna be eating. Really. I suggested this year for Thanksgiving that we all volunteer at a soup kitchen as a family and mom’s response was “Well, what are we gonna eat?”
But then, come Christmas, that line of thinking gets the 180.
For the past few years, my family has invaded Christmas tradition, attempting to unconvincingly downplay the gift-giving aspect, while continuing to request $100+ items or cash on their wish lists. We created a new tradition the past 8 years or so, where my mom and sister and I shlep out with my aunt and cousins to my godmother’s house on Christmas Eve, so that we can wake up Christmas morning as one big happy family and do all the Christmas things together like decorating the tree, watching Home Alone, wearing festive gear, fancy eating and liquor imbibing, general merriment, reading the Bible, taking a walk around town, napping, eating some more, then basically doing everything possible to avoid the gifts under the tree until 5 p.m. on Christmas Day…
Somewhere along the way, this new tradition went awry. Because the elders decided that since “Christmas is not about the gifts,” we should do everything in our power to pretend they aren’t in the next room over-appealingly packed under the tree like some sort of Home Christmas Special edition magazine cover, and act like some of us (not me of course, I finish shopping early) weren’t just maniacally racing around stores trying to find the perfect gifts for each other the week before, like we aren’t excited to see our loved ones open the shit we stressed out to buy for them.
Three “elders.” Three “somewhat” adult-children (because in our family they still call us “kids” at age 30), and one teenager whose Christmas rights are stripped away because even though we’re spending Christmas together as a family to make everyone happy, much of the the fun, happiness, and excitement is being sucked out of the deal by Holiday Dictatorship.
Sometimes my family will suggest not gift-exchanging at all, but instead donating the $$$ you would have spent on their gifts to a charity. Nice idea, although let’s remember this contribution still remains a GIFT, and something you are GIVING, so I’ll forever need elaboration that they’ll never give on what exactly about the GIVING aspect they’re against. In the most logical, Devil’s Advocate-sense, are they saying that since the people you love are better off than those who really need assistance, this means we are less-deserving of receiving ANYTHING from them? Why not just give both? Last year, after multiple years of someone always throwing this idea into the mix, I said fine. Let’s NOT get anyone anything. Give my gift to a donation instead. My cousins were not happy with my acceptance of this idea. I honestly was so tired of hearing it that I really did not give a shit at that point what happened. I ended up breaking the family tradition entirely, and instead spending Christmas with my ex-narcissist so that he wouldn’t be alone. What happened? My family ended up coming to my house later on Christmas Day, WITH gifts that we’d agreed not to buy! When I asked WTF happened to the plan, the answer was “Well we had to get SOMETHING to exchange on Christmas.” Well then WHY THE HELL DID YOU SUGGEST WE NOT IF IT’S NOT ABOUT THE GIFTS?
*Note to readers: My family is cray and their odd, illogical thought processes that don’t quite add up are the reason I can sometimes only take them in small doses.
My philosophy on gift-giving is I don’t like to give gifts out of obligation. Even if you’re receiving something small from me, I likely logged hours hunting online, recalling our past conversations, a joke we may have laughed about together, or something you may have mentioned in passing that you love (if you weren’t one of the few close ones who gave me a list) to apply to the purchase. I’m definitely one of those tailor-the-gift-to-the-individual kinda people who didn’t run to the mall the weekend before Christmas and scoop up some generic sweater/shower gift set/pajamas/hat-scarf-glove ensemble to hand out to everyone so as not to come empty-handed. I also despise gift cards, even if they’re asked for, because they lack that certain originality and creative thought that comes with gift-giving. It’s really just a I-didn’t-know-what-you-wanted-so-here gift.
And you know what? Because I truly do love to give, all that extra work doesn’t bother me. The stress of taking into account a person’s preferences and likes and dislikes and truly trying to incite a delighted reaction on Christmas Day from them makes me happy when I do find that magical side-quest item in the end. It does not make me scorn gift-giving. Scrambling to find gifts for my co-working team and smuggling them with me to Argentina so I could present them in person was a jolly challenge for me. Being counter-surprise-presented with a hand-designed t-shirt from my boss, who put hours and late nights hunched over her project crafting them for us before the same trip was a special reward to me. Shipping additional little gifts I found to friends in different states and paying extra shipment fees doesn’t bother me because I’m sending a bit of extra joy and thinking of them during this special season. When my current boyfriend suggested a gift he could get for his parents and slap my name on it so it would be from me, I childishly exclaimed “NO, I WANNA DO IT,” and dove into an interweb hunt for selections from my heart.
And maybe that’s the reason why the gift-giving part holds a certain weight to me on Christmas. “It’s better to give than to receive” is another of your common Real-Meaning-Of-Christmas quotes. Well dammit, I like giving, and opening the things I was given. How often are we really given a chance to dive into a spirited gift exchange? It’s one day a year. I’m a freaking 32-year-old woman who wants to open the gifts she got from everyone on Christmas morning, or at least not after the damn sun has gone down, and in turn, watch everyone open what she spent the past month (yeah, I start on Black Friday) putting some real thought into. It’s EXCITING! Sue me!
I don’t forget the one Christmas a few years back where, come mid-afternoon, we “kids” literally sat on the couch doing nothing until we fell asleep out of boredom. It didn’t feel like Christmas at all. It felt like any other day; except more boring, because even on normal days when we see each other, we do shit and don’t just sit around waiting for the time to pass until the “elders” FEEL like it’s time to proceed with the main event. Meanwhile, I constantly received texts from friends and family asking “Did you open it yet? Did you like it?”
“Nah, we didn’t GET to them yet.”
“What the hell? What are ya’ll waiting for??”
Nothing. The answer is we’re waiting for absolutely nothing but an antiquated idea that suggests if you care about opening Christmas presents on Christmas morning, you’ve lost the meaning for the season. Maybe one day my family will stop vilifying gift-giving before our traditions crumble. Even the past couple of years, someone has thrown out a suggestion that we all travel to a tropical climate for Christmas instead. While in the past, I would have been vehemently opposed, this time I’ve said I was down. Instead it’s been my mom who’s screamed bloody murder that this would “break tradition” because there’d be no tree, gifts, celebration etc…
I thought it wasn’t about the..
I give up, ya’ll. -.-‘ To all my Christmas buddies who ignore the nonsensical, judgmental rumination on Christmas-giving that my fam tries to bring to the table, thank you for keeping me sane, and keeping that old, little-girl, Christmas spirit flame alive and dancing.