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Pulling the Plug on Christmas

greetingsLast Christmas I did the shopping, the wrapping, the decorating, the tree cutting, light stringing, bulb hanging and pine needle sweeping all in that mythical land of “spare time”. I remember collapsing into the couch one evening with a glass of wine and a cup of resentment, ready to smash every Christmas CD and swearing I’d never do it again. Why in the name of the Sweet Baby Jesus should I go dashing through the snow to fight for a parking place and the last Xbox game to feel guilty for spending too much money? It’s been a long time since Santa graced our chimney and we don’t celebrate it as a religious holiday, so what is it then, peer pressure? My sons have more than they need yet somehow I’ve been duped into thinking I must add to their infinite taste for consuming so they won’t be disappointed on Christmas morning. Spend the money now or on therapy later.
This year wants a lot more laughter and a lot less stress.
I’ve always loved the hunt for something surprising and special, the delight on the face of its pajama-clad recipient and the Christmas memory that lingers. When the boys were little Santa brought the highly-coveted goodies from his workshop while mom replenished the sock drawer, but as they grew up, those Legos became laptops and the joy of giving became the dread of obligation.
Honestly I don’t have bad kids, but like most middle class kids they are part of the generation who feels entitled to an Xbox or an iPod or a smartphone; whatever the latest invention served up to our youth for consumption. When did that letter to Santa morph into the “list of things mom should get me or she’ll feel like crap on Christmas morning”? It makes me sad. Maybe even sadder than the boys would feel if I pulled the plug on this whole string of blinking lights. I’m not sure if I have the ornaments to go that far, but I can make this be a Christmas to remember.christmas tree
This year will be more about giving than getting.

So on December first, in the spirit of renewal and re-connection, I popped the Sarah McLaughlin CD into the player, gathered the boys around a pot of coffee to talk about changin it up this year. “Rather than me producing the Christmas extravaganza while you kill zombies and aliens, why don’t we do something different? Ya know, do something good in the world, create something memorable, maybe have a little fun while we’re at it?” Rather than ask what they want, I ask what we can we give. I hear the sigh as the cheek hits the table; this isn’t going over too well. I dig deeper. “What do you think gives Christmas its magic? (Beat.) What do you want it to be about this year? I could have served up a bowl of boiled brussels sprouts for the same reaction. Mother’s getting desperate. “How ’bout a Twelve Days of Christmas where we exchange small things, or funny gifts?” I ask, trying to mask my ridiculous cheerleader expectation. *ping of incoming text* “What about a movie night? Doing something for charity?… Scrabble?” *sigh* “Can we go snowboarding?” Witherspoon fils queries.

This year there will be no presents, there will be gifts.
Somewhere between the end of the world and the fiscal cliff I vow to bring a kinder, gentler and cheaper holiday experience to our hearts. Rather than sweat it out at the mall, we’ll work it up at the holiday skating rink. Rather than online shopping, I’ll Google “Things to do in Denver in December”. We’ll return to the things we did when they were young and full of wonder- Zoo Lights, the Nutcracker, Christmas Eve service–each event building anticipation of the big day. It’s harder now, exhausted by the eye rolls and resistance. Maybe the magic isn’t gone, just lost in Teenville.
This year there will be no electronics, there will be turn-ons.
As a nation of stressed-out spenders, constantly bombarded with the notion that we must impale ourselves on our credit limits, strive to meet over-inflated expectations, and lose our connection in the process. If Jesus ain’t the reason for your season, American Express and Martha Stewart will gladly step in to take his place? I don’t think so, not this year. What if I took back the wonder? What if we discovered time within our crazy schedules, replaced the standard with the unusual and mixed the kitch into the cookie dough. What if we watched “Elf”, made tacky Christmas sweaters and wore them around town? What if what we gave to one another came from the true exchange of our gifts?
This isn’t a new thought, I know. Every year Hollywood cranks out a heartwarming holiday tale extolling the miracle of the season, the simple things that give it meaning, and for forty bucks sans popcorn, you and your family can be reminded of this.
It is something to think about. As you’re driving around the parking lot looking for a space.

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