31 December 2013


Christmas in America is about a lot of things but the American population puts a lot of effort into gift giving. I cannot lie, I love giving gifts – at least in the beginning. I really enjoy thinking about what will make people happy. I get excited when I see something that someone will like. And then, the closer Christmas parties become, the more I realize who we forgot. And that pressure makes me suddenly not like gift giving.

When I got married we spoke the traditional vows: for better or for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. No one in attendance heard the secret vow that stated that once we said “I do,” I became responsible for all gifts and cards, even for signing Paul’s name on his behalf so that he had zero input.

A few months ago we were sitting on the red leather loveseat in PNG and he detected a birthday notification on his Google Calendar. “Already done,” I said. The gifts were purchased and shipped to the house more than a week ago.” He let out a huge relief sigh.

Alexis thinks this is hilarious. She was trying to get our input on group gifts. When she first texted Paul, he replied that she should talk to me. When I agreed, she told me the total price, and then I replied that I would verify the number with Paul.

“Lol omg…” she wrote. “Paul says you’re in charge of all of the gifts but he’s in charge of paying for them? Hahahaha.”

We celebrate two family birthdays in September, six in October, three in November and two in December, so by the time Christmas comes along, we are buying almost everyone another gift. And there are people for whom we provide Christmas gifts but not birthday gifts. And there are multiple parties. And I start realizing who will be at these parties, and how we might not have gifts for those people. And that is the point when Christmas burnout comes in and the joy of gift giving turns into pressure to present acceptable gifts so that no one gets left out. Where are my people?

Once the gift selection process is done, I hold a wrapping party, and by party I mean I take over a room, spread around several kinds of wrapping paper, ribbons and bows, scissors and tape, gift tags and a suitable pen or marker and sit myself in between the wrapping supplies and the gifts that need to be wrapped. I have noise in the background, generally something on the television to which I need not actually tune in, and I wrap as many as I can in one sitting. Then I take a break and dive back in later.

When the wrapping is done and the gifts are organized under the tree (yes, I do that), then I relax and find joy in all that is done. And then the real joy (and sometimes a little nervousness) abounds when the gift receiver is presented with the gift.

I don’t know if this happens every year but it definitely happened this year, and I feel like there are people who can relate.

This Christmas I was able to experience my own joy not in the gifts that I received but in the way the gifts were presented to me. When I was first asked what I wanted for Christmas, I had just finished easing Gran into assisted living. My mom asked me what I wanted for Christmas and I replied, “I don’t want to take anything back with me and any money I get I will want to put into Gran’s bank account, so I don’t really know.”

Then I got to thinking. People were going to keep asking and I couldn’t have a depressed expression on my face when the word “nothing” would not be accepted. The next time someone asked, I had one gift idea ready: “A stocking!” I replied. Apparently 30 is the year when the stockings and Easter baskets stop. No one told me this; they all just stopped. No baskets at Easter; no stockings at Christmas. Why? I have no idea.

Was I suddenly too old? I think not. Are the parents too old? Again, no. Too expensive? Don’t even try. Stockings are cheap and so are the candies that fill them. Lack of creativity? Even J.Crew had stocking stuffers out on tables this year.

Whatever the reason, I didn’t get a stocking last year. So this year, whenever anyone asked what I wanted this year, I said, “a stocking.”

Saturday night at Christmas Number One, Paul’s dad handed over a stocking. I was utterly surprised and ecstatically excited. Sunday morning at Christmas Number Two I came downstairs and saw the fireplace adorned with one large gift bag, two normal stockings and one giant stocking that stretched to the floor. I may have gone over to them and squished them a little. There were no names so I wasn’t sure which was mine but that didn’t stop me from touching them. No one else was around to stop me. Or judge me.

I sat back in the chair and fidgeted for a few minutes before texting Paul who was awake in bed. “What are you doing it’s stocking time,” I said. A minute later he was downstairs trying to get me to calm down.

“In my family, we wake up and dive into stockings. This is how it’s supposed to work. Is this not the way you do things in your family?” Yes, I sounded like I was 5. No, I didn’t care.

The short story is that Paul made me wait. I wasn’t allowed to dive in just yet. First, everyone else had to wake up. We needed five more people to come to the main floor. Once we were all assembled into the Greek room in front of the tree, presents could be passed and we could watch everyone open their gifts.

Instead of wrapped packages adorned with bows and fancy ribbons, I seemed to attract a pile of…stockings! They just kept coming! One by one the stockings were taken from the fireplace and placed at my feet! Instead of unwrapping boxes, I dug through candy to find gifts, some of them still wrapped.

By the end of the day I had nine stockings in my collection: small, medium-sized, giant, striped, embroidered, camouflaged, zebra print. It was a Christmas miracle! My mom, who hosted us Christmas Eve, also chipped in on the game, handing my stocking number 10! Best. Christmas. Presentation. Ever.

I happen to think this was a genius idea. Stockings create fun and excited emotions and I feel it is much easier to dump candy and stuff prizes in stockings in lieu of buying wrapping paper, measuring, cutting, fitting, realizing the paper is a centimeter too short, measuring again, fitting, taping, folding, taping, ribboning and placing on bows that don’t actually stick. Now, I will continue to do that for everyone else next year but for me, I like the stockings…even if Paul added some coal to the one he gave me.

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