Over the years, I’ve observed an interesting phenomenon about Christmas.
As a little kid, it’s all about the way Santa’s ability to do the impossible pervades everything we do, convincing us in the holiday season, anything can happen.
Back when I still played tennis, the kids on my team fell prey to this strange myth that somehow if you laid out milk and cookies and a tiny little bed, an elf would magically appear in it and clean your room while you were asleep. I’m not kidding, these kids brought their elves to practice.
Naturally, I wanted in on a magical cleaning elf, so I subsequently laid out food and a place to sleep, waiting for my magical elf. I think perhaps a local store started this tradition, and its success relied on parents knowing about the existence of the elves and coming into their kids’ bedrooms to clean up.
My parents, however, had no clue what I was babbling on about, and thus I never received my beloved elf. That was a humbling blow to my capability of believing in Santa and his magic.
Back then, it was pretty easy to placate me with a few properly chosen presents. Get me a scooter and I’d be content for weeks. Kim Possible walkie-talkies? I was sold.
In junior high, the norm at my school was for everyone to exchange little presents. We were expected to bring in baked goods and cards for our teachers, and give our friends meaningful knick-knacks and tchotchkes. I remember one year I did just that; I brought in mini lotions from BBW and chocolate bars for everyone.
In junior high, it was just as much about giving as it was receiving. All of our giving was tinged with the materialistic intention that we would get something equally as special back.
Under the tree, what would we find? A smart phone? iTunes gift cards? We wanted it all, and we thought our parents could make it happen for us.
In high school, I discovered practicality. No more useless gifts. Some years, I still bring in gifts for my teachers, but when I do, I try to shift the spotlight onto the cards that I write vs. the baked goods that I bring. Because I can more easily connect with my teachers, transforming generic holiday cards with specific memories and thanks becomes more comfortably and easily done.
I still want clothes and money and expensive phones, but not as urgently as I used to. I’ve started to put a lot more thought into the gifts that I give others; lotions, gift cards, and earrings just don’t cut it anymore. It’s no longer a competition with the members of my family to spend more than each other on presents; it’s about the sentimentality and the contemplation that goes into the gift.
I think as you grow older, your Christmas list gets smaller and the things you really want for the holidays can’t be bought.
As we develop interpersonal relationships, as we grow up and start believing in Santa less and in reality more, as we venture farther and farther into the real world, we just want to be understood by others. Physical objects just don’t satisfy us the way that they used to. Happiness can’t be wrapped, it can’t be bought or sold or exchanged; it shouldn’t be commodified like that.
As a senior that’s headed off to college next year, this holiday season is really about remembering what it’s like to be surrounded by my family. Of course, I’ll probably return to Atlanta during the holidays next year, but that’s incomparable to living at home the way I do right now, and the corresponding build up to the holiday season as we hint about what we’d like and what we need.
For me, sentimentality and materialism are not mutually exclusive, especially in regards to the holiday season. I love a big old tree standing majestically in the corner of our living room, the way it sparkles and glows out of the corner of my eye. I like the way my pants get tight at this time of year as we pop infinitely more Ferrero Rocher chocolates into our mouths in passing, and how it’s acceptable to wear conflicting red and green or sing and dance to a Christmas playlist in the shower.
My family is relatively Christian, but I am not very religious at all. However, this doesn’t stop me from celebrating Christmas or abiding by time-honored traditions; the holiday season still holds so much nostalgic meaning for me.
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