As a child, I recall this time of year as being full of wonder and excitement leading up to Christmas. I spent hours writing and rewriting my lengthy Christmas list, getting lost in the process. I would describe it as more like a free for all list. Anything and everything that came to mind made that list, whether I wanted it or I saw a commercial on television telling me I needed it.
At the time, I saw nothing wrong with the process of asking for everything I wanted. Wasn’t that the point of the Christmas list? I recall my mother rolling her eyes at me as I licked the envelope to Santa. My excitement was unbearable and my mother's anxiety was obvious.
Growing up, my family struggled a bit financially. It wasn’t something we talked about openly, it was just a silent reality. Much like carbon dioxide, you know it exists but you don’t think about it or discuss it until the alarm goes off when there’s an emergency.
The heat in our house was always turned down low and we were handed blankets to stay warm when we complained. Our cars were most often outdated with high mileage, partially because that was what my parents could afford, and partially because my father “did not derive his identity by the car he drove”. My parents did their best to shield my sisters and me from our financial reality. We lived comfortably uncomfortable. They worked hard, really hard and provided my sisters and I with a wonderful childhood, especially at Christmas time.
My memories are vivid. Waking up on Christmas morning was the best day of the year. My mother spent way too much money and provided a “wow factor” like no other. Our faux tree sat in the middle of the room surrounded by hundreds of gifts, both wrapped and unwrapped. (The Santa gifts arrived unwrapped). A tradition I carry on to this day. Our tree was always dwarfed by the expansive array of gifts that were stacked behind, beneath, and beside it. I remember my father's expression, as if he was scolding my mother with his eyes. His eyes said, “what the hell did you do?” and her glance shot back at him, “be quiet and simply enjoy the day” My sisters and I spent half the morning gleefully unwrapping all of the gifts.
Our Christmases were a time filled with love. One of my most vivid memories I have of growing up when my whole family truly enjoyed each other's company. It was a magical time.
Today, I’m the mother rolling her eyes at my daughters. They are no longer young children with lists filled with toys, rather, they are young ladies with lists filled with expensive wants.. All of the items that I would put on my list if I were bold enough to make one. They too believe that the point of a Christmas list to to throw up on paper everything and anything that exists in your mind. A purging of desires, i guess you would say. They are really good at it, too good.
Despite all of my anxiety around gift buying during the holidays. I truly love being able to provide them with some things they really want. Key word here is “some”. My decision of what to buy them resembles the college decision making process. We start with every and any college that slightly interests them in any way. Then we begin to take away some of the choices based on distance or difficulty to get to, and finally, we use the pricetag as the deciding factor of which college they will attend. It’s exactly that same process when it comes to choosing what gift to buy for my girls. It is a true process.
Ultimately, everyone ends up at the right college, and with the right gift under the tree. If not, there’s always swapping. Life is funny that way.
My Father used to sing the words from the Rolling Stones Song to me:
"You can't always get what you want, you can't always get what you want, you can't always get what you want, but you get what you need!"