The Gift of Christmas Presence

You can never get enough of what you don’t really need.”

~Stewart Emery

I remember the morning that the Christmas took my son on the journey from innate graciousness to maniacal greed.

Neither my husband or I got much sleep that Christmas Eve, so great was our anticipation of his joy.

His first Christmas, at a few months old, wasn’t exactly thrilling, and the pleasure he expressed on his second Christmas  was fleeting.

“No,” he said, when we put another present in front of him. He finally exited the room in the face of our persistence.

By his third Christmas, however, he had joined our culture. He never left the room until everything was opened, upon which he pronounced:

I want Santa bring more.

The turning point, however, came on his 4th Christmas, the one we couldn’t wait for…

We watched  it unfold before our eyes.

The morning began sweetly.
He played with each present.
His pace quickened.

“Slow down, slow down,” we scolded him, but there were no brakes.

He began opening one gift after another,
furiously ripping paper,
barely noticing what was inside.

He plowed through the pile until there was nothing left, at which point he collapsed into tears, completely unsatisfied.

WE had a created a monster, and then we shamed him for being our creation.

After that year, we encouraged relatives to send less–and since that was a hopeless cause–we bought much less ourselves, even re-gifting things from year to year. (It helped that our income was very low.)

That same Santa Moose shows up each Christmas, along with holiday themed books and films and toys.

By the age of 5, between birthdays and holidays, our son had so many things that there was no need to buy anything new for his baby brother.

We continued to re-gift–wrapping up forgotten treasures each Christmas.

Eventually, what was found under the tree was much more of what was needed… things like a sled to replace the broken one, a ski coat in the next size, even new bed pillows.

To our surprise, less Christmas brought more joy.

Greed dissolved. Graciousness returned.

What was received brought deep satisfaction.

Last year’s gift of digital cameras were played with for the entire holiday break and more.

Over the years, we’ve reigned in Christmas more and more–even cutting back on feasting and celebrations–to create the space needed for the feelings we want most–magic and grace and generosity.

img_2420But it’s still a slippery slope–especially for me.  I begin each holiday gently, just as my son began that Christmas morning that drove him to tears,  but as the weeks progress, and the holiday grows closer, I begin to grow anxious with desire and fear.

Will I have enough?
How will I pay for it?
Am I missing out on the experience of abundance by not buying?
Will my children and my husband (and me) feel blessed and loved?

Eventually I reach the maniacal turning point of spend, spend, spend.

That’s where I found myself last night– coming out of the liquor store with a big bottle of Baileys Irish Creme.

I don’t even drink it anymore.

But I used to love it, and everyone was buying fancy bottles, and I wanted to be a part of all of it–even though I had just bemoaned that that I had blown through most of my budget for the month.

I the joined the throngs of shoppers at department stores, rapturous with desire, craving the feeling of plenty!

And then I remembered my son. How his rapture turned to disillusionment. And I restrained myself from a big covetous purchase, and returned another and another to the shelves.

I began to soften.

I quieted the roars of more, more, more.

Today, I sink into a slow pace, with Christmas carols and cookies and with this writing about the gift of “presence” that needs—plenty of empty space— to be received.

2009

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