So much precedes the moment you gather with your loved ones around the tree that after all the presents are opened, and the wrapping paper is strewn across the carpet, it’s easy to look around and think, “That’s it?”
All the preparation. All the stress. All the hype. Then it’s over.
What began, for many, the day after Thanksgiving fighting crowds on Black Friday weekend and continued into December in search of that perfect gift, culminates with the Christmas ritual of exchanging presents to show others how much you love them. And while the event rarely lasts long, it’s the memories we hang on to. It’s what somehow makes it all worth it.
Last Christmas, my dad, who would readily admit buying gifts is not his strongest attribute, had a plan. On a previous trip to Mexico, my mother had admired a sculpture by an artist in San José del Cabo. And in what was our holiday finale, he surprised my mom with the gift. She cried. And I remember my dad, who had shipped the artwork to my parents’ home weeks prior, with a satisfied look on his face, knowing he had delivered that perfect present.
It’s not easy. When I recently asked him how he was going to top last year, he wasn’t sure. No pressure, dad.
I’m lucky. I’ve often been on the receiving end of gifts that create those long-lasting memories. Just last year, my girlfriend gave me a perfect present.
In early November 2016, my beloved Cubs won their first World Series since 1908. The event was monumental and one I wanted to commemorate. Soon after the game, my girlfriend contacted her friend in Chicago who had an early-rising police officer pick up a copy of the next day’s Tribune. That framed newspaper with the words “At last!” in enormous font emblazoned across the page now hangs on my wall. It will forever.
We still talk about how ridiculous my reaction was to opening that gift. It’s another Christmas memory to add to my collection. After all, I’m a sucker for thoughtful surprises.
Other Christmas gifts over which I have lost my mind include: the original Nintendo Entertainment System with zapper gun, Super Mario Brothers and Duck Hunt (I didn’t leave my room for months); Rupert, a cairn terrier puppy who would always run away; and a Michael Hoban eight-ball leather jacket that I wore even during the summer months.
On the gift-giving end, like my father, I often struggle. I’m always bugging friends and family members about what another friend or family member might want for Christmas. No one, except my nieces and nephews, ever asks for anything. So the pressure is palpable to turn that fleeting moment of giving into a lasting memory.
The anxiety is widespread. In fact, most Americans — nearly seven out of 10 — said they would forgo exchanging gifts if their family and friends agreed to it, according to a recent Harris Poll. Meanwhile, those same Americans are spending more on holiday shopping than ever, with the National Retail Federation reporting sales up 6 percent over the same time last year. The stress is apparently worth the trouble.
This Christmas, here’s to creating new memories with your loved ones regardless of whether you find that perfect gift. And here’s to maintaining your sanity when you inevitably try to find it anyway.