Thursday, December 25, 2008

Taking the time to see the gifts in front of you

This is it. The thick of the holiday season.

No matter what you celebrate, by now the presents should be wrapped and maybe even given, the cookies baked, the food cooked, the tree decorated, the cards written, the music playing, the candles lit. Unless, of course, you're at my house.

I knocked on my neighbors' doors around 4:30 p.m. yesterday -- yes, Christmas Eve -- and handed them cards, feeling terrible that I hadn't found time to bake their usual gifts, trying to keep my little kids from tracking muddy snow through their clean and decorated houses. I forgot to buy half of the ingredients I need for the dish I'm supposed to bring to my brother's house today. I still haven't wrapped any of the presents; in fact, I still haven't bought some of them -- we'll have to do a little last-minute shopping tomorrow -- yes, the day after Christmas -- while en route to the airport to pick up our oldest children. I'm thankful that the little two are so young that they're just psyched about the tree. (Our 4-year-old's only request was for a magic wand, but, she said, she wants it to be able to do "real magic." When asked what he wanted for Christmas, our 2-year-old smiled slyly and said, " get tweats? Lah-lee-pops?" Lollipops? That's it? Done!)

Like most people -- or, at least, like most people I know -- the holidays stress me out. Way out. I love Thanksgiving -- all food, all the time -- but Christmas? Not really.

Well, except... I used to LOVE Christmas. I sang in an a capella group in high school, and every year we sang mass at the local university's chapel. My favorite Christmas songs are sung in Latin, but I used to be psyched, not annoyed, when the DJs started breaking out the cheesy holiday tunes minutes after Thanksgiving. Long after my brothers tired of decorating the tree, and even after my mother declared hauling the ornaments out of the attic Too Much Work, I would get out all of the silver and glass and cloth and dried-pasta baubles and pour over them, reminiscing about the ones we made and admiring the ones that we bought. When I was 7, a friend told me that Santa wasn't real; my father went out of his way to restore the magic -- I was in my 20s before he told me how he did it -- and I was a believer for many more years.

When did I go from loving the holidays to loathing them?

I was trying to pinpoint the moment when I read this great post by Madame Queen, about a couple she overheard squabbling while out Christmas shopping. She wrote:
I don't know this couple. I never even really looked at their faces. I don't know what their lives are like. I just heard this guy, obviously wanting to spend some time with his wife. Away from all the hustle and bustle. And she, all she could focus on was what had to be done and all the sacrifices she made. My heart broke for that guy just a little bit. And my heart broke for her, too. That she couldn't see the gift that was right in front of her.
Somewhere along the road from youth to, well, now, I started focusing on all the work that was involved in making Christmas happen and forgot to enjoy the process. I became so focused on the gifts that needed to be purchased and the ones I couldn't afford and the ones everyone else wanted that I completely forgot to look at the gifts that were sitting right in front of me.

I won't list them here... the important thing is that, after you read this, you turn away from your computer and start looking around you at all of the gifts you didn't think you had. The ones you didn't have to buy.

Happy Holidays. Wishing you and yours peace and happiness in the coming year.

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