As I sit gazing at our Christmas tree, the underside packed to overflowing with tomorrow’s gifts, I can’t help but think how lucky my kids are. The toys, cozy winter wear, crafts, and knick-knacks beneath all that colourful paper is the stuff my childhood dreams were made of. But it’s not just the presents. The season of spoiling began months ago when grocery stores put out their first Christmas oranges, when retail stores put up their Christmas merchandise displays in, oh, October, and when weeks ago, many neighbours and citizens, eager to beat the cold, adorned their houses in Christmas lights. There’s been Christmas parties with friends, sweets galore, work Christmas parties, school Christmas parties, and treats from coaches, teachers, even strangers. There’s been talk of Eddie the Elf, multiple Santa sightings, elaborate advent calendars full of chocolate, sweaters with lights, and Christmas music since mid-November. All of this, certainly in its volume, is new to the Christmas experience since my childhood.
I remember a tree, erected never more than a week before the big day, hung with decorations that never changed year on year. I remember one school Christmas concert that drew the whole community together, one grand shopping trip to the metropolis of Lloydminster each season. I remember one box of Christmas oranges that cost $13 at the Co-op that we split 20 ways and savoured like nobody’s business. I remember baking with my mom and an advent calendar that involved gluing last year’s Christmas cards onto a paper tree. I remember every word of the nativity story and with what wonder we looked at our humble nativity set each year. I remember cold legs in my Sunday best as we went to a midnight service with enough spirit to fill an entire universe. I remember Grandma’s candy bowl filled with lemon drops and chicken bones. No parties, no early treats, no Santa sightings, and only Christmas sweaters knitted by actual grannies. I remember singing ‘Silent Night’ around a tree with half the presents and ten times the people…
My kids are lucky. But I was luckier.
Perhaps many of the things we’ve come to associate with Christmas, the extended harried commercial season of it, are just a sign of the times, but I won’t lay all the blame there. My parents unequivocally chose people over things–I’m not sure I can say the same about myself and many in my generation. There’s still love, joy, and a focus on family, no doubt, and I still feel that ‘magic’, albeit in a somewhat diluted form thanks the world’s attempts to drag it out for as long as humanly profitable, ahem, possible. But as I said, I have to own my own part in this. Could the time spent shopping for that elusive 5th item in my daughter’s stocking have been better spent baking gingersnaps with her? Yes, it could. Could we have taken a night out of our busy Christmas schedule to do a puzzle as family or read the nativity together? Why not! Might I have chosen not to shop for any Christmas items or listen to any Christmas music until a little closer to the time? Of course.
It’s wonderful to celebrate the season and have presents galore. Just remember not to let the things under the tree take away from those around it.