Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Agony and Ecstasy of Christmas

Children agonize over listing all the stuff they want for Christmas for months in advance. Some adults do, too. There are those "gotta have" gifts that can spawn great agony and mourning if they don't appear under the tree. [In my memory, thoughts of those "gotta-have" treasures evaporated soon after the new year.] Then there are the "that's nice" gifts -- usually from one's grandparents, but not on the child's official list. If you had your druthers, you would trade all of them for just one from your list . . . but no way. If your grandparents are in the room when you open their "that's nice" gift, you are expected to graciously thank them for it, even if you have to fake it. That's a whole lot harder than it sounds, particularly for kids under the age of 14. Parents watch closely for appropriate reactions and if they don't happen there'll be hell to pay later on: "Grampa and Grandma aren't made of money you know" -- or -- "They went out of their way to find something nice for you and I expect you to appreciate it" -- or -- "Grandma made that crocheted toilet paper cover with her own, two hands; you WILL LOVE IT!" Teens have a particularly hard time with Christmas because the symbolism of Christmas gifts is incredibly important. I'm not talking about the Gift of the Magi here. I'm talking about those all important gifts given between boys and girls. Back in the dark ages when I was in middle school, "dog tags" held huge significance when exchanged between a girl and boy. These silver disks were engraved with the owner's name or initials and worn on a chain around the neck. An exchange of these necklaces meant a couple was going steady. That meant the boy should carry the girl's books as they walked home together from school and they could hold hands in public. [I know - sounds pretty dorky, but that's how it was.] Of course at the ages of 12 or 13 most boys were clueless about girls and what we expected of them. Girls matured faster than boys and often underwent growth spurts before the boys did. Many girls learned to slouch to try not to tower over the boys. My dad wouldn't have any of that. He was a stickler for good posture so for a few years, I had to just tower over boys until they caught up to me. In junior high school we put on an annual Christmas Pageant. Yes, it would have been politically incorrect by today's standards, but I was never aware of any complaints. The program wasn't overtly religious, but it did mention the reason for celebrating Christmas. The choirs were a mixed bag and sang beautifully -- no prob.
Getting back to the agony and ecstasy of Christmas -- several years ago I decided to enter holidays with no expectations. That way, I'd always be pleasantly surprised. It's worked well for me. A neutral state of mind allows me to accept the disappointment if I goof with a gift for someone who clearly wanted something else. It also allows me to be thrilled when an unexpected gift (one not on the person's official list) brings pleasure. Besides, too much changes from year to year -- family members move away, or loved ones die. Traditions that were the glue of a family celebration just can't hold up to those transitions. So, in closing -- I believe that Christmas is for children and adults need to back off. Our only role should be reiterating the reason we celebrate on December 25th. It's not to make merchants happy and wealthy; It's not to see how much stuff you can get; It's not to compete with your friends to see who gets the latest gadget first; It's not to snarf-down pounds of fat and sugar; It's not to gripe if you don't get that thing that "everyone else has . . . whine" Christmas celebrates the birth of a baby in a barn of all places about 2,000 years ago. Because he was special, cool stuff happened after his birth and the world changed after the baby grew up and started walking and talking. Keep it simple.
Merry Christmas, y'all!


Mark said...

But I want STUFF ! (KIDDING)
I related to everything you wrote, like usual, except I dont remember the dog tags, but I do remember if I carried a girls books home, we were an item. Oh, the simple days huh?

dcpeg said...

Yeah, I wanted stuff, too but as the years pass I have accummulated way too much stuff!

I DO miss the simpler days when kids actually walked and talked together and parents kept an eye on their kids instead of their Blackberrys.

[Ha! My "verification word" is WINGS -- something I always wanted and never got!]