No one would ever accuse me of being a creative gift-giver. I always give a full-throated, but short-lived and unsuccessful, effort at coming up with gift ideas for people on my lists. I then revert to asking those people for a list of things they would like before I scurry out into the lengthening shadows of Christmas and purchase one or two of the items on their list.
They are always happy, I suppose, with what I get them. After all, they said the wanted it. But I feel cheated by the entire experience. Among the people on my list this year, only one person will get a gift that was entirely of my own creation. Not surprisingly, it is the gift I most look forward to giving.
The entire gift-giving experience is traumatic for me, yet I enjoy Christmas so much. I wondered just what it was about Christmas, commercial as it has become, that I like so much.
It’s not really the religous significance of the holiday, though I certainly acknowledge its importance and I know this year, with Christmas on a Sunday, I will spend part of my day in church with my father-in-law, celebrating the birth of Jesus.
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What I finally realized, though, is that the thrill of Christmas is quiet and the relative solitude. I value my friends and my work. But all that disappears like a puff of smoke on Christmas Day.
And, though it has happened in small increments over time, my “family” has changed a great deal since those joyous self-centered days of Christmases of my youth. I always expected Christmas to include my parents, my brother and sisters, my grandparents and my great-grandmother. No one else. Just me and those 10 people.
As a college student, we lost my great-grandmother and one of my grandfathers. Christmas got different. Then, as my grandparents’ generation began leaving us, I watched as my “family began expanding. I found a wife and, suddenly, I had two families. Parents-in-law, brothers- and sisters-in-law, nephews. We had to start making decisions about where to spend Christmas and with whom.
They were agonizing decisions, though I know they are no different than the decisions other young couples have to make. We tried visiting everyone for as long as we could over an all-too-short Christmas holiday. But that was unsatisfying. It was more stressful to get from one place to the next than it could ever be just sitting out Christmas in one spot.
And so we began trading off years, first at one family’s home this year, the next year at the other family’s home. That, too, has been dissatisfying, because we inevitably feel we’ve left out a big part of our family. This year, we will revert to traveling from one place to another.
And, now we are starting to see our family change even more. For the first time, one of our children won’t be home at all for Christmas, opting to meet us at her grandparents.
I suppose in the not-too-distant future, there could be sons-in-law and, one day, grandchildren to make a fuss over. Christmas will again, for a time, become about the sheer joy of children on Christmas morning.
But no matter how short the visits or how hard we drive from one place to another, we will land somewhere and find that the time we spend with our family – no matter how it changes over time – will be the real pleasure we get out of the holiday season.
Grandmama Johnson may no longer be with us. My mother and my mother-in-law will no longer be sitting at their familiar places at their respective kitchen tables when we walk in. But life replaces those we love and lose with others we can love equally. And there is nothing better at Christmas than the quiet time I’ll spend with all those who make up my family circle today.