Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Gifts: Part 1

Christmas. The Season of Giving. The time of year when people should be thinking of love and peace and the Savior. The time of year when we are ACTUALLY running around like crazy, greedy, insane people trying to buy the "perfect gift" for every person on our much too long shopping list. Not to mention the cooking and parties and decorations and everything else that makes this holiday a contradiction.

When I was a child I LOVED Christmas. There was a wonderful feeling in the air. There was excitement and happiness, family togetherness, service projects, flexing my creative muscles, beautiful music. I could go on and on. For some reason the past several years have been lacking in these warm and happy feelings. One reason is the chaos I have already described. Somehow, no matter what I do, I find myself too exhausted and stressed to enjoy the holiday. I know I am not the only one.

I have been blaming this stress on a number of issues but I will tell you about one; gift-giving. There have been times when finding the perfect gift, carefully wrapping it, eagerly waiting for the recipient to open it, the thrill of seeing that expression of happiness, was as exciting and fulfilling for me as anything else I do. I took great pleasure from choosing something special for family and friends. It made me happy to make them happy. What happened?

One downer I have already talked about, ingratitude. My efforts sometimes seemed wasted as I accepted a hurried "thanks' and was shoved aside to make way for something else. I know I have done the same thing to others. I have even regretted not taking just a moment to be more genuine in my thanks, not appreciating the gift in the moment but later, after the dust settled.

Years ago I read a book called "All I Really Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten". It is a collection of essays by Robert Fulghum. One was about how he had completely overlooked all the Christmas cards he had received and ended up reading them in July. He talked about how he had been too rushed and busy to share in his friends lives and accept their love for him and his family. At the time , I thought it was ridiculous. How could someone be so busy with things that don't really matter in the long run?

Twenty years later, I was in his shoes, wondering why no one told be about a new baby or surgery or moving to a new home. I realized that all that information had been in the cards I had quickly read and put out of my mind. It wasn't that no one told me. I wasn't listening.

"How could this happen to me?" I asked over and over. "I should know better." I realized that a lot of the stress was self imposed. I was the one stressing over presents. I was the one trying to hurry and get things shipped before the deadline. I was the one making enough food to feed an army.

My first taste of how far off course I had gotten was when I was helping the kids with a Christmas list. As their wishes became more elaborate and the list got longer, I felt the weight of it crushing me. I started to lecture them about wanting too much and being selfish. I said emphatically "You are not going to get everything you want, you know." My oldest son said calmly, "I know. That's okay. I didn't get everything I wanted last year either. "

I was startled by his matter-of-fact statement. "What did you want that you didn't get?" I asked, feeling a little bit like a disappointment to my child. "I don't remember what I wanted last year. That's why it's okay. I won't remember what I wanted anyway."

I don't know when I have ever been more proud of my son...or more ashamed of myself. I was the one getting caught up in the hype and commercialism of Christmas. I was the one who had asked them what they wanted in the first place. I had taught my children that Christmas was about Santa and presents and cookies and pies. I had been the one to neglect the true meaning and spirit of the season.

I have not yet found my balance when it comes to Christmas. My husband and I talk about what we should do differently. So far, we have made minor changes. Every year is another chance for change. We are hoping this year will be different. If nothing else, I want to be different this year. I want to let go of the pressure to create the "perfect Christmas" as the world describes it. I hope that I can create for my family a more genuine Christmas experience.

No comments: