Nothing Special, Really

Monday, December 17, 2007

Gimme Presents Now!

For many years, Christmas was about one thing to me; the accumulation of toys. I didn't appreciate the family aspect of Christmas at all. Who cares about going to church on Christmas Eve or having dinner with family the day after? Just give me my presents, and when you're done doing that, go find more presents to give me. I was such a greedy, selfish little bastard. I couldn't even wait until Christmas; I recall many years, when my parents both left for work early in the morning, waking up and going to search for the presents. The space under the headboard became their prime hiding spot, and I was usually able to locate most of my presents fairly quickly. I think they caught on to this because they started putting them into their closet instead. I remember one year I got really brazen and started looking through the closet while they were in the house. Unsurprisingly, my mom caught me, and seriously considered taking back all my presents. I wouldn't have blamed her for doing so.

Our family tradition was to open one present before church and the rest after church on Christmas Eve. As soon as we'd get home, I'd set up camp right next to the Christmas tree. Being the smallest and most agile of the group, I was responsible for handing out presents since I was able to squeeze under the tree & get the ones in the back. Once all the presents were passed out, we'd start opening them. It was a virtual guarantee that I'd be done opening all of my presents before most everyone started on their second present. Once I opened a present, I was more concerned with what was in the next box than I was with the gift in hand.

On Christmas, my grandparents would come over for dinner with their gifts. My mom's parents would come over with trash bags full of gifts. However, I learned early on that quantity did not translate into quality, as my gifts usually consisted of clothes that I would never wear or the same Children's Bible that I'd get every year. I don't recall what my dad's parents gave me, but I think it might have been a card with money.

I do have some other fond memories of Christmas that don't revolve around how many presents I got. I'm pretty sure that whatever cooking skills I have began with helping my mom bake Christmas Cookies every year. My first taste of alcohol was at Christmas time, when my brother would play his trick of giving me his Jack & Coke instead of my regular Coke. And there were a couple of years somewhere in there where I'd help my dad collect toys for the Child Crisis Center. But for the most part, my Christmas memories are categorized by the gifts I received, i.e. "The G.I.Joe Christmas" or "The Beach Cruiser Christmas".

When I started becoming too old for toys, Christmas started changing. Grandparents had passed away, my siblings started having families of their own, in-laws started coming to our dinner, and toys were replaced with more clothes. Clothes have always been a terrible gift idea for me. Not only am I very peculiar with my tastes, but at that age, I also wanted to be wearing what all the other cool kids were wearing. Brands like Stussy, Mossimo, and Guess. My mom would try her hardest to find clothes that I'd like, but it was always difficult because she wouldn't shop at the stores that carried what I wanted. Plus, she would always try to put me in clothes that she thought I'd look good in, and very rarely did our tastes match. I do remember one year when my mom was able to find stuff that I wanted at the prices that she wanted, and we both walked away from that one fairly satisfied.

Christmas also started changing for me when I started enjoying the gift-giving aspect of Christmas. One year, after I lucked into a monetary windfall of a couple thousand dollars from the passing of my grandmother's best friend who I'd never even met, I used some of the money to purchase gifts from my family. This same Christmas, my sister has lost her boyfriend & most likely future husband when he died in a car crash. I don't recall the whole story, but I remember there was something about a white dove at the scene of the accident & that being symbolic to here. I happened to find a music box of a white dove (music boxes were a big hit as a gift in our family for a while) and gave that to her. When she opened it up, she tried hard to fight back the tears, but she completely lost it when the box started playing. Apparently, the song that played was a song of theirs too. I'm not sure if I've given many more gratifying gifts in my life than that one.

After I graduated from high school, Christmas became a whole different scene. More often than not, my brother's place became the hosting grounds for our family Christmas. My brother left his wife for another woman, and we started incorporating their family with ours. Things were awkward for me for a while because I associated Christmas with my house, with my mom overseeing dinner, with our tree in the living room. I also started developing many new friendships around this time, and for a while, it was more important for me to participate in Christmas with my friends than it was with my family. There were a couple of years where I spent money on gifts for my friends but didn't have enough left over for my family.

If it isn't apparent by now, Christmas hasn't always been a warm, fuzzy holiday in our family. In fact, I've often felt that we've celebrated Christmas more out of obligation than anything else. We're not a deeply religious family (or in my case, at all, which I made known one Christmas when I got the courage to tell my parents I wouldn't be attending church because I didn't believe in God anymore), nor are we a close knit family. Christmas has been a time for us to get together as a family, but physically being in the same place doesn't always make us that much more connected. As it is today, we're still a family that distanced by internal struggle and a failure to communicate to each other at times.

Anyways, I've spent the past two holidays away from family. My first Christmas in Seattle, I was adopted into a friend's family for the day, and spent most of it watching movies followed by a bowling trip. I was still a newborn Seattlite, and not really truly knowing any of these people, I longed to be back home with my friends & family. Last Christmas was my first with my girlfriend. This was the first Christmas where I was actually in a relationship at the time, so of course, I showered her with gifts. We spent Christmas with a friend of ours by going to the movies and then out for Chinese food for dinner. I really did enjoy Christmas last year but it still felt out of place.

After being away from family for a while, I think I'm finally starting to get the hang of what Christmas is all about. Of course, I'm still showering my girlfriend with gifts, I'm still hoping & praying that I get things that I'll like, and I'll still probably get clothes from my mom that I probably won't wear. But I'm not letting my Christmas be defined by that kind of stuff anymore. This year will be my first Christmas with my family & friends in three years. I've put in overtime the past couple of weeks not only to have money for gifts for them, but just to be able to travel down there to begin with. I'll be able to catch up with all my friends that I haven't seen in over a year. And even though I don't believe that Jesus was born on Christmas day, I'll be back in church with my family celebrating it on Christmas Eve.

Don't get me wrong - I still love the gift-giving aspect of Christmas. I'm staring at the presents under our tree right now, wondering what Wac got me. But I'm not tearing off corners to sneak a peek anymore, I'm not searching through receipts trying to see what was purchased. There's an unwrapped gift laying in a Target bag next to me that Wac has told me not to look at, and I haven't even thought about it. In fact, I've been the one who's had to demand that we wait until Wednesday morning to unwrap our gifts (although we did break down and opened our one gift tonight instead of Tuesday night - I got some kick ass headphones & some CDs of bands I've never heard of but now enjoy). Maybe even as recently as 5 years ago, I would've been all over the idea of opening presents early. Now, it's just not the most important thing.

Maybe it's an effect of not being able to see friends & family more than twice a year anymore, but I guess I've finally come around to understanding the "true importance of Christmas". There's still that cynical side of me that thinks that Christmas is too commercialized, too consumer-driven, and celebrates the birth of a person who, if he really did exist, was no more than a great storyteller. I don't believe in Christmas, but I do believe in setting aside at least one day a year to be in the presence of those you care about, and if I have to call it Christmas to do that, then I'm willing to make that compromise.

So whatever Christmas means to you, I hope you have a good one. And to many of you....I'll see you later this week.


  • I will leave my response until you get here.

    By Anonymous Brother, At December 17, 2007 at 6:54 AM  

  • Your post makes me laugh. Merry Christmas to you too sir. Regardless of what Christmas is to everyone, it is at least a time where you can share with your loved ones, whether that's family or friends. To me, that translates to good times.

    By Blogger Alan aka RecessRampage, At December 17, 2007 at 9:36 AM  

  • You put it so gracefully what I have felt about Christmas for a long time. Although I do happen to beleive in Jesus and that whole aspect of Christmas, the family thing does change and its importance changes. I won't see you this year Matt, but my thoughts are with you as you spend Christmas this year with your family.

    By Anonymous Laurie, At December 17, 2007 at 12:48 PM  

  • Holy shit I can post comments from work again!

    Anyways, to all that are reading this, I realize how redundant the last two paragraphs sound - I edited this late last night and wasn't paying attention. I'll fix that later today.

    By Blogger Matt, At December 17, 2007 at 3:17 PM  

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