My transition away from Christmas greediness began in 2001, the year my dad died. He was Mr. Christmas, and our rituals rotated around his jollity and let’s-celebrate-with-champagne spirit. I didn’t grow up with a large extended family. It was just us — mom, dad, three girls — on the west coast. Without Pop, our routines simplified. Mom bought a fake tree, and we didn’t bother preparing so much food.
Christmas felt hollow without Pop. Luckily, about this time, my sister N had a son, then a few years later, her second son. So Christmas became about them. They’d visit after the 25th to celebrate a second Christmas with us (noni and the crazy aunties). Those were some fun years — and Christmas became a big deal again. I don’t have kids, but I experienced the joys that children bring to the season. In fact, the boys replaced Dad as Christmas spirits.
Christmas still revolved around presents. Only now I relished buying my nephews the perfect gifts, and I didn’t care what I received.
The last few years, it has just been Mom, my youngest sister, and I. Life is too hectic for N to visit with the boys. Also, Mom has dementia, so we’ve pared down our Christmas even more. My sisters and I don’t exchange gifts anymore. I still enjoy buying the perfect gifts for my nephews. I also like buying Mom new things to replace her old stuff. Among other things, this year she’ll be receiving a new winter coat, bathrobe, slippers, bedside clock with large display, and sheets. Plus, her obligatory box of See’s Candy.
Twenty years ago I would have cared that I wasn’t receiving presents in return.
It’s funny how life changes us. These days my friends are as much my family — and maybe even more so — than my actual family. Last year, for the first time in my life (except for the years I lived abroad) I did not spend Christmas Eve with my family. Instead, I went to dinner at a fabulous restaurant with a friend. We ate and drank too much, and had a blast. It’s our new tradition.
Twenty years ago I would have pitied my future self these apparently boring Christmases. But I love them. They’re simple. They’re about friends and family in equal portions.
Sure, gifts are still a part of it. I exchange gifts with some of my friends. The difference is that I’m not tallying whether I spent more that anyone else did, or how many gifts I received, or whether I’d have liked something else instead.
These days, I’m greedy for time with people I care about. Receiving gifts is a holiday bonus rather than a requirement. If this is boring, then I’ll take it!