'Twas the morning before Christmas and all through my house, the only sound to be heard was the click of my mouse. The children were sleeping all snug in their beds, but visions of Target kept dancing through my head. What time do they open, how crowded would it be? I need one more package to put under the tree! I threw on a sweatshirt, grabbed the keys to my sleigh, I was headed out the door until a small voice inside yelled "NO WAY!" No more toys, no more food, no more gifts no more bling. The voice said "NO" to the Christmas Eve urge to run out for "just one more thing."
It's a powerful urge, one I'm convinced has genetic links. My mom, a very busy career woman, always did the the bulk of her Christmas shopping on December 24th, closing out the stores and barely beating Santa home. Still mall-weary from the extreme effort, she'd then spend most of Christmas Day in the kitchen, cooking up a feast for the many relatives who poured in. Yes, our tree was piled high with gifts, and yes, our table did runneth over, but even as a child I felt uncomfortable and unhappy with the excess. I craved her presence more than the presents, I was hungry for something that couldn't be baked or sauteed.
The trend continued into my adult years, because let's face it, old habits are tough to change. But one year, they did. Unexpectedly, my mom had major surgery just days before Christmas and all thoughts of presents, wrapping, or food went straight out the wreath-free window. My aunt and cousin flew in from Egypt to be with us, and when we woke on Christmas morning I think it took a while to even remember what day it was. In a last minute decision we dragged the tree up from the basement and rummaged the cupboard for something to eat. The only gift we unwrapped was a project I had been working on for months- finally organizing the scattered, tattered photos from my parents' wedding into an album. We sat around the kitchen table together sipping mint tea, nibbling on whatever we found, pouring over those black-and-white photos from so long ago. I remember my mom looking at my dad with happy tears in her eyes, remembering that day 4 decades ago when their lives became one. I remember my aunt telling stories of the eight siblings whose faces peered back from those pages. You can call it relief from passing through a medical emergency, you can call it the spirit of simplicity. I just call it the best Christmas ever.
Sadly, the lessons of that Christmas were short-lived and faster than you can say "Holiday Excess" we've all returned to our usual ways. Now that I have my own children I understand the irony of Christmas: how the desire to give them the most wonderful holiday can be exactly what prevents us from doing just that. But this year more than ever, I'm also coming to understand that the holidays as we know them will not last forever. No one knows how many more Christmases my babies will be blessed with the gift of four living grandparents. Not even Santa can bring us promises of job security or good health.
So this year (and hopefully many more to come) I'm just saying no to any last minute holiday economic stimulus. The stockings could surely be more stuffed, and there won't be as many cookies to feast on. There are even some last-minute additions to our Christmas gathering who will not find gifts from us under the tree. To them I apologize, but if they truly love us I know they'll understand. There's nothing left on any store shelf that's worth losing time with the ones that I love.
If you need me, don't search the malls or the stores- look no further than the couch. That's where I'll be gazing at my semi-decorated tree with two wide-eyed little elves. I'll do my best from this Christmas Eve on to give them my full attention, time and love. And "just one more thing": Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.
PS- Mom, please stop shopping now!