Sunday, November 18, 2007

A Little Bit More...

The Grinch has long been one of my favorite Christmas stories. I would don a nasally, scratchy, grinchy like voice and read it to my children and students over the years. But there is a place in the story where my voice softens; it changes from the stingy tee hee sounding twang to a tone of disbelief. It is when the Grinch is a top the mountain with his sleigh full of stolen Who-toys. It is Christmas morning, and he can’t wait to hear all the Whos wailing and crying because they have no gifts. Instead, The Grinch hears singing and joy rising up from the valley below. And it is here where my voice changes: Maybe Christmas isn’t just packages, boxes and bows… maybe Christmas means something much more…”

I have to admit that I have never really liked Christmas, and I think it’s because I have never found a way to de-emphasize the commercialism of it all and try to find out what more is behind the true Christmas spirit. As a child, I would make a list of all the things I wanted and invariably I would be disappointed because I didn’t get something, or I didn’t like the clothes my mother picked out for me, or my sisters got something “bigger or better.” We had so much as children, but we were always looking for more. As a parent, it was fun to try to pick out things that I knew my little tykes would enjoy – and they did- for a few minutes or a few days. Although we didn’t raise our sons with the wealth of my childhood, they still had pretty much everything they needed, and we didn’t have the kind of ready cash to give them the Air Jordans and Saab turbos that many of their peers in the private school world were touting. I sensed that Christmas was never fully satisfying to anyone. Now that I’m a grandmother, the controversy of Christmas continues to plague me. Every year I look through catalogs and on line and talk to my sisters who also have grandchildren to try to find the perfect gift for each of my grandsons. It’s fun; I often go over budget; and I get frustrated with the enormous costs of sending these items across country and oceans… and then most often, I never hear about whether they were delighted, bored, or somewhere in between. The thank-you card is becoming a relic- although the ones I have received I have saved. Even when I talk to my sons, it is rare that there is a mention that they even received a Christmas package from me – let alone telling me that the recipients appreciated my gifts- leading me to conclude that the gifts were really not much appreciated. So this year I have made a small something for every member of my family, and I am seriously thinking of getting gift cards for them so they can get themselves something they like. The problem is, I will probably not hear from them about the gift cards either! And I am forced, ironically, to ask, “So What?” Isn’t just the joy of giving enough? Why do I need a response to my gifts?

Perhaps all of this proves the Grinch to be right- Maybe Christmas is something more than gifts and packages and boxes and bows. Maybe that is what my children are trying to tell me- “Mom, We really don’t care what you get us or even IF you get us anything…”

But now the hard part of this essay begins… just what IS the Christmas spirit, and how can I give it to my friends and family?
I have received gifts from friends that tell me they have given a sheep to a woman in Africa in my name. I always like receiving those kinds of gifts – as I truly do not need any things myself, but I want to be more involved with my children and grandchildren – I think I want something more personal.
I have started a web page to collect family stories – I am very excited about it, and have told all my children “all I want for Christmas is a story.” If I get those stories I will be so happy AND- it is my belief that the sharing of those stories with all the members of the family could truly be a gift for everyone… but I’m guardedly cautious that I will receive any stories. My children lead very busy lives, and I certainly recognize that writing a story is much more labor intensive than ordering a gift on-line.

But the stories may be closer to my attempt to define the spirit of Christmas. I think the spirit of Christmas has to do with connections – reaching out – sharing – being in touch – celebrating meals and traditions together.

Could we limit our material gifts this year? Could we send the message that even if we had no gifts on Christmas morning we could be joyful because we have each other? How would that fly?

I realize there is a bit of hypocrisy here for me. Our economy depends upon the greed, gluttony and insatiable appetite most of us have for the newest gadgets, up to date clothing, and the “in” games, videos, and accessories. Since I have retired, I am keenly aware that my income is tied to the success of the stock market, which is invested in the success of consumerism. So secretly I am hoping that most of America will find many presents under their trees, stuffed in their stockings, and shared throughout Hanukah and Kwanza this holiday season. At the same time I am hoping that my family spends less time and money buying presents and more effort in writing and telling stories to each other. It would be pure joy for me if “all I got for Christmas were family memoirs.”