Every year I write an open letter to you in my blog, because I feel like a child-free house doesn’t need the special magic of a personal visit in exchange for warm milk and cold cookies. While you still haven’t managed to deliver on that pony – come on, Santa, I’ll be fifty in two years! – what I’ve received in exchange for my letters is hardly pittance. They bring me clarity of thought and a direction for the coming year, among other things.
As usual, I’m not asking for material goods this year, because one of the most important lessons you’ve taught me over the years is that the most important gifts don’t come in boxes.
Santa, it would be easy to ask for enlightenment. We’re doing so many horrible things to the environment, the economy, each other… If there’s one area where humans excel it’s in forgetting – even ignoring – the greater good. And it’s not like I don’t want an end to unsafe drinking water, chunky air, people rationing their medications because they can’t afford refills, or toxic masculinity, but… those are big picture, and this year, my wish is a little smaller.
So many of my friends this year are making posts and comments about how they wish the holidays didn’t have to be so stressful and commercial, or how things were more fun when they had money. And I get it, I do, because I’ve succumbed to that push to be the perfect host and felt the pang of not being able to get my husband the Big Thing he really wants or telling him not to get me the Big Thing I really want.
We’re doing okay this year, but I’m not working for money right now, so even at our house things are tighter than I wish them to be.
I’m not a parent, as you know, Santa, but I was a child of a single mother during the early part of my life. Mom and I have had many conversations about how she felt guilty for the times she had to work on Christmas Eve, or my birthday. Similarly, I was never the kid who got the name-brand sneakers or tech. Seventh grade, my sneakers were from the store that is now Big Lots. They looked like Nikes, but the swoosh was upside down. My first Walkman-type thing (yeah, I’m that old) was something we bought for $20 at a swap meet. It lasted for years though, and worked perfectly well, even if it wasn’t sleek and sexy.
And the thing is, those aren’t the things I focus on. Mostly, those aren’t even the things I remember. I remember the way mom and I would make cocoa and eat pfeffernusse cookies while decorating our four-foot-tall artificial tree, or that when having personalized everything was in vogue, she found a stamp with my name on it, and stamped sweatshirts and notebooks and a bunch of other stuff.
I may have never had the pink, plastic Barbie dreamhouse, but my dolls were decked in handmade couture from my mother’s sewing room. On the other hand, until I was eighteen, I got packages of cute underwear from my mother or grandmother every year. Now? I’d kill to not have to pay $35 for five pairs of panties. And truly, the years when we agreed to $20 limits and stocking-stuffers only were some of my favorite Christmases, because it forced us to be creative. And I say this as the least crafty person in the world.
Look, we all want that perfect Hallmark holiday with snow that doesn’t make you cold or wet and food that seems to spring forth from the kitchen with no effort (or mess), but the reality is that life is messy, and Hallmark literally uses a checklist when they churn out those holiday movies.
And yeah, Christmas is more fun when you can be extravagant. But that doesn’t mean it’s more meaningful.
I can’t remember most of the gifts I’ve received over the years, but I remember the way our plastic tree somehow transforms into something magical when the last ornament has been placed. I remember getting a new nightgown for Christmas eve almost every year. I remember bundling up and getting in the car to drive around and look at lights, and then come home for cocoa.
We rarely had a ton of family around, even after my mother and Ira got married. Instead, we’d have a festive meal, watch something special on tv, and maybe play a board game. Most years, our gifts were books and pens and the afore-mentioned underwear, and bath stuff. Sure, there would be one big thing, but even that was never the coolest, greatest, hottest thing on sale.
As I recently reminded a friend, five-year-old Laura Ingalls was thrilled when her Christmas presents one year were a tin cup, an orange, a penny, and a stick of candy. (I think it’s only when you re-read the Little House books as an adult that you realize how poor that family really was.) But even today, most little kids are more excited about the box their super-awesome-toy came in, than they are the toy itself.
So, Santa, this is what I’m asking for this year. I’m asking you to use your magical staff and sprinkle some gentle cheer over everyone. I’d love it if you eliminated stress, but since that’s not likely, how about a reminder that, just as no one knows the truth of any relationship except the people in it, no one knows the truth of your holiday practices except the people you choose to include.
Remind us, Santa, that it’s okay to simplify. It’s okay not to have a cookie-cutter Christmas. It’s okay to focus on meaning and caution against mass consumerism. And Christmas is an excellent time to embrace the concept of no-money fun.
Can you sing? Go caroling through your neighborhood (my friends and I did this in high school and one family invited us in to sing for about half an hour). Can you bake? Give someone the gift of something homemade – or invite them into your kitchen and make something together. Can you sew? You don’t necessarily have to make anything big. One year, I gave a friend the gift of an hour of replacing buttons on shirts. This year, I’d really love it if someone came to help me clean out my closet.
Maybe it’s because we’re experiencing our first holiday season without either of my husband’s parents and without my stepfather, but I feel like it’s important to remember that memories are way more important than the things we buy with money. Give us a hand with that reminder, won’t you, Santa?
Oh, and if you could work on the whole peace, economic stability, and social justice for all thing, as well, I promise to stop harassing you about the pony.