I love Christmas. I love everything about it, especially the decorations and the food and the music and the social gatherings. But most especially, I love presents. It’s because of the anticipation. I love the gradual build (the slower and longer, the better) towards opening presents together as a family, and watching my siblings light up because they know they are loved, accepted and understood.
Of course, this is idealised – that’s part of what I love about Christmas, the happy, shiny parts stay strong in my memory and the less flattering or enjoyable parts fade. That is part of the hope of Christmas – the invitation to see ourselves slightly more as Christ sees us, taking more of our potential into account, and accepting more deeply our weakness.
We have some pretty strong family traditions around presents. Santa still comes every year. By the time mum realised that we’d gotten to our youngest brother (“don’t let on, or the presents will stop!”), and he wasn’t the only 9th grader who still believed, she figured out that we treasured those stockings. (Actually, pillowcases). Mine is almost as old as I am, decorated with my name and the owl from Snow White by an adopted grandma from the ward. I took it with me when I went overseas, and Santa always found me, but this is the first year that the grown siblings are taking care of each other – minus a brother on a mission, plus a fiancé.
We drew names out of a hat, and we’ll each make sure to collect the necessary components for our one person. Some of us, I’m sure, won’t be able to resist picking up another little surprise or two, to nestle amidst the compulsory orange, toothbrush, undies, magazine (a nod to the Christmas book tradition of yesteryear), little box of cereal, and small tin of golden circle pineapple rings. Possibly even for people other than our assigned person.
We all love giving presents. Since we were all old enough to work, we five siblings usually put our money together, and chose a big gift for each person. Sometimes by sending one person off while the four others looked together, sometimes delegating the shopping after we decided together on an item, but always communicating – always taking the opportunity to learn what each of us is focusing on, and cares about, for this year.
This is my first year back home after one Christmas in London (with a sister) and two in Seattle. It’s really interesting to see the changes and similarities in that time apart, how we’ve all grown as people, and our interests have shifted. I’ve become less interested in wearing makeup as I’ve grown more comfortable in my own skin, and my brother has become more interested in fashion as he’s shed old personas and taken on a new professional goal. One sister is engaged, and we contemplated matching gifts for the two of them, but ultimately decided to celebrate their individuality (at least for this year). The other sister is the one I’m closest with, and that made it surprisingly more difficult to commit to a choice. (The price of failure was higher).
On Christmas morning, I’ll be awake before anyone else, if history is any guide, and open my stocking, carefully letting the anticipation reach deep inside as the others wake from excitement and discover their surprises. When we’ve all had some breakfast – the cereal, usually – and maybe a nap, we’ll read the account of the Nativity in Luke, and take it slowly in turns to open a gift. Everyone watches, and only the one gift-forensics-specialist sister won’t be surprised by something, and we all get to practice this special form of empathy, concentrated together – for just a few moments, but after so much time and effort, and really more than a few moments is difficult to hold something so intense.
And it’s possible this too is imaginary, that mostly Christmas ends in fights. But I don’t remember those. And if so, every year, there is forgiveness, and a willingness to try for the ideal once more. And if that’s not what Christmas is about, I’m doing it all wrong.
I’d love to hear your favourite parts of Christmas 🙂