As a child our special time to open gifts was December twenty-fourth, in the evening. My sister and I were sequestered in the downstairs family room, for what felt like an eternity. Mom and “Santa” prepared for the festivities upstairs. Dad would check on us from time to time. Of course he was helping mom put up the tree she painstakingly decorated. The tree would have white lights and be all silver one year, silver and gold another, and there were always those few special hand made ornaments. The presents surrounded the tree, a section of each family member. Stockings would hang by the staircase railing, filled with yummy treats. Downstairs we’d play or watch movies and wondered what some of the thumping sounds were. Once everything was finally ready, we would be summoned by the sound of Christmas chimes played on the stereo, mom’s favorite. It was dark by then and only the lights of the tree and candles lit the scene. We would run up the stairs with excitement. First we were allowed to check out our stockings before going to our section under the tree. It looked so beautiful. We’d take turns choosing a gift and would watch each other open them. There was always that one special item we wished for and somehow it was always the last to be opened.
In later years we asked mom to only put out appetizers, since that was all we ever filled up on. Her wonderful dinners were hardly touched. It was so much work and my sister and I were far too excited and full to eat the dinner. We were distracted by our new toys or clothes.
Funny how family changes along with some of the traditions. Once married and we had our own family, they kept morphing. As our children grew, they preferred opening gifts Christmas morning, so we switched. It was then I realized how much influence children have. We had done the same thing with our parents.
It’s holidays like Christmas that get romanticized. Everyone has a different expectation or vision. The child within us wants to feel special. As children we loved receiving that one gift that was so thoughtful. As we matured we enjoyed trying to give that kind of gift.
The consumer culture has affected the notion of what is special. We used to have to wait for special occasions to receive a gift, maybe it was a much needed pair of shoes or a new outfit for church or school. We lived by delayed gratification and we seemed more thankful. Nonstop purchasing throughout the year sends a different message, especially to kids. Expectations have been raised a bit higher.
One year I hand made all the gifts. It was a lot of work and time consuming, a labor of love. After that, I put the kibosh on gift giving. I was always happy to be surrounded by our family. That was enough.
For the last few years we’ve been away in St. Martin. The rest of the family has made their plans, possibly new traditions. There may come a day when we are once again celebrating together. We’ve left behind gifts for the grandchildren. They are in their magical years when their imagination and excitement are still fresh and innocent.
Again this year we have forgone the cold weather for a blue Christmas. We will celebrate with friends on the island whose families are far away. We will enjoy the warmth of the weather and friendship, never forgetting the warmth of the togetherness of family.