This was the first year I simply gave my brother money and told him, “Buy your kids something they want for Christmas and tell them it’s from me!” There was a tinge of guilt in my voice during this transaction. At some point, the kids grow up, are “impossible to buy for,” and trying to figure out what each niece and nephew wants is more trouble than it’s worth.
The pressure of buying gifts has always weighed heavy on me, especially this time of year. I know, I know, that’s not what the season is about. But whether it’s your spouse, or cousin, or coworker, watching someone unwrap an unexpected present and seeing their eyes light up with joy never gets old.
The problem is the bar for that to happen continues to get higher and higher. In this era of connectivity and instant gratification, surprising someone in general is more difficult. Everyone has everything or knows someone who does. And collectively, they have already posted about it or seen it online.
After transitioning to the uncle who doles out cash for Christmas, I began thinking about the most surprised and gratified I have ever been by a gift. The irony of this exercise was I couldn’t immediately think of any. To be sure, I’ve been blessed with amazing people in my life who have generously given me thoughtful items over my lifetime. But I had to rack my brain to remember what they were.
There was the puppy, Rupert, a cairn terrier given to me by my parents when I was a kid. On Christmas Eve, my dad told me I was getting a hamster, so when the small dog ran toward me, I thought it was the strangest looking animal in the world.
I mulled it over a little while longer. I recalled other memorable gifts, from bicycles, to video games consoles, to a framed newspaper of the Chicago Tribune the day after my beloved Cubs finally won the World Series.
On the other hand, experiences of holiday gatherings sat at the forefront of my memories – there for me to relive when I need to be reminded why I love this time of year. My dad pulling my brother and me on sleds behind his car. My childhood home lit up like a casino more than a month before the big day. And my mother cooking for a week to make sure the Christmas Eve feast would be the best meal of the year.
Now that I’m older, I’ve started my own traditions by making chili and crab the night of Christmas Eve for anyone who wants to celebrate with me. There is dancing, and jokes and boardgames and, yes, gifts.
There are always gifts, but I really can’t tell you what I got last year, or the year before that. I’m sure it was practical. Something like a vest, or a sweater, or some outdoor gear I always wanted but never bought. Perhaps it was a new pitching wedge for my golf set. I guess this is a roundabout way of arguing that gifts don’t matter – at least not as much as we want to believe.
People like me begin getting anxious in December after watching endless television commercials of couples giving each other brand new cars with giant bows on them. In reality, the recipient is bored with their new Lexus within a week.
The holidays, it turns out, are mostly about the experiences you create with your friends and family. That’s it. That’s what you will remember most after the shine of your gifts wear off.
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