Every year at this time, in the season of giving, I write a note to all that care to read it. I attempt not to make it too over-the-top while at the same time deliver a message that I believe is important. In this season of giving, I give you this:
I recently had a conversation with an individual about among other things, gift giving. Usually when I have these conversations with literally anyone I have to keep in mind that the practice in my family is much different from most. I hear stories about how people have to drive all over town. I hear how they have to go to their spouse’s cousin’s house because that is where aunt Jean is and that is the only time they will see her and if they don’t see her there will be hell to pay because they wouldn’t hear the end of it until at the very least the fourth of July holiday at the BBQ that is put on by uncle Glen every summer – you know the one where Jean drinks too much and tries to light bottle rockets and M80’s with the teenagers in the clan? Yeah, that one.
I hear about not wanting to drive all over hell’s half-acre, the drama that will unfold between their mother and aunt Jean, the well-to-do yuppie clan that have favorites in the family and only give the designer gifts like $400 headphones and liposuction only to the people they like or can control. I listen to a lot about people’s holiday experiences, and I hear a lot of what I can’t relate to; people spending time with relations that they can’t relate to in a relatively awkward situation.
What I do understand is simple. In the true meaning of the word. I understand simple. Don’t get me wrong, a little familial in-fighting might be fun or even downright entertaining, but it’s not something I’ve witnessed very often if ever. What is the secret to avoiding this? A small sample size, keeping the variable low and easy to calculate. Let me explain…
For me, visiting family means that there is generally only three of us. On occasion, family friends, and depending on the holiday, neighbors will be part of the mix as well. When it is just the three of us it is simple and enjoyable. Now that isn’t to say that the gift giving is wooden blocks, a power toothbrush, and a U.S. Treasury T-bill. How it works with us is you get several small to moderate gifts, from the absolutely goofy to the dangerously practical. At the beginning of the morning you may start out with a pack of pencils or four sets of differently designed socks. Moving forward might be an electric wine bottle opener or your favorite team’s hoodie. Come the end of the day (which is usually evening by then) you will end your day with a new laptop. That’s how it goes with us. That’s how it’s been with us for a very long time. We just have… US.
What is great about the whole situation is the simplicity. Of course, you might think we are crazy for extending our opening of gifts for hours and hours, drinking bloody Mary’s and moving between two rooms to accomplish our mission of unwrapping. It’s not crazy. In reality it is quite genius. Here is the key to my entire story – we take that time, hours, upon hours, upon hours so that we may take joy in the time that is spent with each other. The day is one in a million because we know what works for us and we don’t have to answer to anyone. When we wrap up socks in a package with perfectly creased paper, elaborate ribbon and bows, and ornaments hanging from them, we do it because it is fun. We do it because it looks awesome. We do it because it’s not a thrill to receive socks on Christmas morning, but damn it the decoration will be top-notch and we can all laugh at the same time.
So remember this; it isn’t what is in the box that always counts, it’s what you do to make that box unique. It’s what you do to make Christmas yours and yours alone. It’s what you do to try to stretch every last ounce of greatness out of the holiday.
The next time you’re on your way to aunt Jean’s and you start to feel anxious, take a deep breath and think of how superb it will be when she sees the box that has been prepared to the level of being in a magazine or featured on Martha Stewart, only to have opened it to find four, three pack sets of socks from Target. The look on her face will be priceless, and you’ll know sometimes it really does mean more about what is on the outside than the inside.
Merry Christmas everyone.