I still remember the aggravating Christmas mornings when my oldest daughter, the most spoiled of the four, would hover around the tree, waiting to be handed her gifts from Santa. Then, she’d tear off the wrapping paper in anticipation, pull out the gift, look at it momentarily, shrug, toss it aside and immediately reach for the next box.
Merry Christmas, everyone, and Happy New Year!
My holiday spirit sank lower than the Gross Domestic Product after the 2008 financial collapse. “So this is what Christmas is all about,” I thought, “giving and getting and getting and getting and getting more.” Where did I go wrong?
Every Christmas, I vowed that the next year would be different, but it wasn’t. How had my wife and I created such a tribe of ravenous child consumers addicted to “stuff”? I suspect that in many ways they took after me because, I’m ashamed to admit, I’ve often been obsessed with striving for more. But having and getting more isn’t the purpose of life.
I usually ended the Christmas morning festivities with a sermon that started something like this, “When I was a boy … things were different.” Then, I promptly shared stories about how I’d get an apple in my stocking, some white athletic socks that I wore with penny loafers, and my own pair of nail clippers. And that was a good year.
At which point they all shrugged and started to barter among themselves, swapping gifts they didn’t like for something someone else had. It was worse than a marketplace in Cairo.
Their behavior didn’t deter me, however. “When I was a boy,” I persisted, “we appreciated what we got — no matter what we got. Every year, my mother gave me underwear. Do you think I rolled my eyes or sneered when I opened the box? No! I pretended to be excited and promptly put them on and ran outside to show the neighbors. You guys are ingrates.”
Predictably, no new Barbie, no new Fisher-Price car, no new Cabbage Patch Kid or Smurf or Beanie Baby could satisfy that overpowering desire for more. They weren’t sure what “more” was, only that they wanted it.
Even the priciest gifts were tossed into the corner by the end of the day, soon to be forgotten on a pile of disregarded toys. That’s what happens when we define our lives by our possessions. Nothing is ever enough because, I’m convinced, all our yearning is really spiritual, not material.
I wanted to think about the Prince of Peace and his birth in Bethlehem, but instead I found myself anxiety-ridden over what to give four girls who had too much.
We eventually stopped buying gifts because our tastes weren’t hip enough, and everything we bought got exchanged or swapped or relegated to the bottom of a drawer or a box destined for Goodwill.
This, in turn, led to the worst Christmases of all, when we started to exchange gift cards. What a sterile, heartless, mercantile way to celebrate the holiday.
Years later, I’ve come to terms with the situation — a little late, but hopefully in time to teach my grandchildren yet-to-come about the true spirit of Christmas. The real secret is learning to be grateful for what you’ve been given, regardless of what it is, because the person who bought it for you put some love into it and hoped you’d like it.
I’m not going to say that consumerism is killing the Christmas spirit because you’ve heard that thousands of times before, but I will say that when you put possessions before faith, hope and love, you’ll never understand the meaning of Christmas, and it will be just another occasion for reckless spending.
This Christmas, tell your kids and grandkids that giving is better than getting. Tell them that the world is divided into two types of people — givers and takers — and givers are better.
So if you want to feel the true spirit of Christmas, give to someone who has nothing, face to face, hand to hand. Then, you’ll realize in your heart that despite what the billboards and atheists attacking Christmas say, the Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.