My mother loved Christmas. She gracefully hosted a houseful of her kids and their kids. There were piles of gifts under the tree. The “good” china came out of the closet and the linen table cloth was used.
Mom loved to cook, it never seemed an effort for her to put out a meal for 12 or 15, however many showed up, got fed. And they were well fed. With all of us around the table there was always laughter
Everyone would gather in the living room, we would exchange gifts. It was just as much fun to ooh and ahh over what every one else received as it was to open your own packages.
Well Into my 40’s I still looked forward to the holiday with the excitement of a child waiting for Santa. Every bit of her condo decorated, the table set just so, it was, well, it was Christmas!
Having taken over hosting Christmas since my Mom died it just never seemed to have the same magical feeling to it.
For various reasons this year, some having to do with changing employment, my children opted out of a gift exchange. Now, mind you, my children are in their 30’s and 20’s.. It wasn’t like telling a kid the truth about Santa.. but that’s exactly how I felt.
Initially I was in denial I was pretty sure they were going to come to their senses. One of them would call and say it was all a joke. Just Kidding.
Then I became angry with these kids, who did they think they were anyway… I can buy you gifts if I want to! And you can just take them too! So what if you choose not to shop for me.. you are gonna take what I give you and be happy damn it.
Then I tried to cajole them into it. It’ll be okay.. just a couple small gifts.. nothing like last year. You don’t have to exchange gifts… just take the ones I get for you.
I cried, not because of what I wouldn’t get, but because of what I couldn’t give.
The day came, my children and my siblings arrived. Family. My sister brought Hula Hoops, and Paddle Balls.It was fun remembering how great mom was at paddle ball. I even went out into the front yard to see if I could keep the Hula Hoop up off the ground. Not so much.
I realized the gift exchange had nothing at all to do with presents.
It really was about taking time to focus on each other. The love that went into choosing the perfect token to carefully wrap and then present to a parent or sibling or child. It was about watching someones face to see their expression as they unwrapped something you had especially chosen for them. It was the time taken to thank someone for thinking of you.
Next year it will be different. Whether we have a gift exchange or not, I will not spend so much time fussing in the kitchen. I won’t be agonizing over making sure every side dish comes out of the oven at the same time for culinary perfection. After dinner I am going to linger over dessert and lottery scratch tickets. Who cares if the dishes get washed now or later. So what if I don’t get the casserole covered and in the fridge. Next year… I will take the time to sit with all of my family and simply appreciate and enjoy being together because
it’s all about the presence.