A feeling, not a thing
Remember when I was determined to be done Christmas shopping by Halloween? That was cute. As usual, we’re just a few weeks from the big day and I’m left staring at the empty spaces in my holiday spreadsheet where purchased gifts should be. I’ve covered most of our family and friends, but close relatives — like, say, my husband — are still looking sparse.
That wasn’t the plan, cer- tainly. I’ve been making notes whenever Spencer mentioned a new movie, T-shirt or tchotchke he liked, but the man is tough to shop for. His hobbies — amateur radio; woodwork- ing — are subjects I know nothing about, and he has countless tools and accoutrements already. I’d have no way of knowing what he wants or needs without asking, and where’s the fun in that?
This stands in stark con- trast to previous columns I’ve written about how much I appreciate regis- tries, I know. To some ex- tent, I do like suggestions on what to gift someone. As with weddings and baby showers, I’d much rather buy what you’ll be excited to receive rather than blow cash on a festive tin of seasoned peanuts (you can’t eat) or a book (you read years ago).
Didn’t we all make wish lists for Santa Claus? As a kid, my sister and I would pluck the toy catalogues out of the mail and dogear pages with requests for the big guy. Needless to say, the whole thing was one giant dog-ear. My parents would have us jot down “a few” toys, and that list was shared via our annual letter to the North Pole. (In later years, we actually faxed Santa; Tim- othy, his head elf, respond- ed with illustrations.)
Sharing gift ideas is just the adult version of fax- ing Timothy, you know? As we’re all watching our funds, I hate to think of anyone spending money unnecessarily. I under- stand now why some folks try to enforce a “no gifts” rule for special oc- casions — better that you sock that cash away than blow it on a sweater set. We don’t necessarily need the sweater, but everyone could use the savings.
I guess I’m boring like that.
The fact is, shopping is all about getting in and getting out these days. Most (or all?) of what I buy is dull-but-necessary stuff for the household or little treats for Oliver. When I do buy something strictly for me, it’s usually caffeinated. And quickly consumed.
But everyone wants to treat their loved ones at the holidays — though that doesn’t have to mean filling the bottom of the Christmas tree with flatscreen TVs and iPhones. Smaller, sentimental gifts mean more as we get older . . . and that’s what I strive to gift now. It just takes time. Have you tried being sentimental on a deadline? It’s stressful. Because I do most of my shopping online, items must be or- dered well in advance — meaning this weekend is really my last shot to ac- tually receive presents by Dec. 25. I have a few holdouts that I just don’t have brilliant ideas for, and the clock is ticking. Literally.
So what do you give someone who has every- thing? Cheesy as it is, I think you give your time. We’ll be spending Christmas Day with Spencer’s parents, grandparents and extended crew this year — a first in our married life. It’s a long trip and I’m sad about being away from my own family, but I recognize how difficult it is for my inlaws to be away from their son and grandson, partic- ularly in December. It’ll be strange to wake up in a guest room on Dec. 25, but hey — winters in New York mean less dreaming: we’re all but guaranteed a white Christmas.
I’m so excited to see Oliver’s little face after Santa’s visit, and that moment won’t be impacted by our zip code. While he’s still too young to really “get” holidays, he is fascinated by all the glitz of the season (and has been doing better with not stripping our tree of its ornaments, thankfully). Oliver will be silly, adorable and giddy — so we’ll be happy, too. Our relatives will be delighted to have us there. Spending time with family — the one we’re born into and the one we create — is definitely what puts the angel atop the tree, you know?
So I return to my gift spreadsheet: a dull document in which I’ve noted all our holiday-related purchases so far. The pressure, the struggle to be creative, the rising costs of it all — it’s enough to suck the soul right out of Christmas. But only if you let it. Yes, I have loose ends to tie up — literally and metaphorically. But we’re in the final stretch. And if every- thing isn’t “perfect,” well . . . what’s perfect, anyway?
To me, perfect is hot chocolate and “Home Alone” and my son col- lapsing in my lap, his favorite blanket draped around him like a cape. It’s dimming the living room lights so only the tree casts a glow, my mom’s holiday lasagna and mother-inlaw’s snowflake cookies. It’s Spencer and I pouring milk and gathering treats to leave Santa on Oliver’s behalf, and our delight at his delight.
Christmas is a feeling, not a thing.
I’d do well to remember that, too.