When I was little, I loved Christmas. The big meals, the treats, made for TV specials featuring Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph and Santa, candy canes and of course, presents. My brother and I would sneak out of our rooms in the middle of the night and explore the brightly coloured packages under the tree, giving them a gentle shake to guess what was hidden in them.
We padded into the kitchen in our socks and took turns holding the lid of the cookie jar (shaped like Erine as in “Bert and Ernie” from Seasame Street) while the other retrieved chocolate chip treats from within. With our illicit snacks in our hands, we went back to bed and I watched the clock tick over to 6am, then 630am, wondering, is 7am too early to wake Mom and Dad and start in on the presents?
As the years went by and I started having money of my own from after school jobs and my allowance, I enjoyed getting presents for my friends and my brother, taking great care in my selections. I agonised over what to spend, making sure each present was special and reflected my friendships and knowledge of the person I was choosing for, wanting each gift to be perfect and inspire a look of pleasure in the recipient.
More years passed and I looked forward to Christmas as an excuse to show people what they meant to me in the form of a carefully selected present. I especially loved it when I could surprise someone with a small symbol of my affection when they didn’t know it was there in the first place.
When did that change?
Don’t get me wrong. I love my friends and family as much as ever and with the passing years the people who mean a lot to me are as much in my heart as ever. What I mean is, this year, I finished all of my Christmas shopping online. I was smug, pleased with myself for my efficiency. I knew what people liked and I chose accordingly. The presents arrived pre-wrapped in identical red paper and ribbon with a pre-printed note on them. When I saw the pile of presents, I was suddenly ashamed of myself. Yes, it was done and I could go back to the work and tasks of the day. Yes, I was sure everyone would like their gifts, but there was something hollow in the clinical and removed way in which I did my gift gathering. It was as though it was a chore to be tackled and not the daunting, agonising but meaningful way in which I approached Christmas shopping in previous years.
When did I stop taking pains for the one day in the year when I’m allowed to be a soppy, sentimental bundle of love? People talk about the mayhem of the High Street shops and how difficult it is to find anything and the battles to get from point A to point B, the long queues and the general pre-Christmas carnage, but wasn’t that part of the fun? Didn’t the effort it took to find that perfect gift for the person on your mind at the moment make the finding of it more satisfying?
What about the tangle of tinsel and sello tape, the lopsided wrapping paper and ribbon curled with scissors that symbolised the final polish of that present? I used to love finding something special for someone in September and re-discovering it in the cupboard in December when it was gift wrapping time. I would sit on the floor in the livingroom, paper and packages all around me and another prompt for me to think of that person and why the gift was being given in the first place.
So, what changed? Convenience has contributed to my laziness, but if I’m honest, I’ve changed, and not for the better. Work and life’s obligations have become the focus of my life and that pile of pre-wrapped gifts was like a huge, un-friendly mirror with writing across it. “You are taking people for granted”.
I know that in some cases, these things can’t be helped. Yes, Amazon is easier than going to the shops and taking your time (especially since my family are 6,000 miles away). I don’t think that being rushed is always a bad thing and I’m not talking about everyone here, just myself, but I want so slow down and really spend this holiday season thinking about the people I love, my friendships and remember what this whole thing is supposed to be about. It’s about love, connection and being grateful for the things and people you have. It’s not just about the presents, but the meaning behind them.
I know you’re supposed to make your resolutions in January, but I’m going to jump the gun here and resolve to think of my friends and family more often, to try to show them more than once a year what they mean to me and finally, to really think about what I can do to make them happy this Christmas. I think that’s the best present I can come up with.