‘Tis the season…for what? Happiness? I’m too busy being bombarded by advertisements urging me to buy the “perfect” gift for my sister’s seventh-grade teacher. Relaxation? If relaxation has become equivalent to fighting other shoppers for that last parking spot at the mall, then I’ll be relaxing for up to 12 days before Dec. 25. Perhaps the holiday season only offers three S’s: stress, spending and snow. [stress]
My gift list is eight miles long and my wallet isn’t thick enough to handle the burden. How do I draw the line for who does and does not warrant a present? How can I judge friendships based on material goods? Yet this is exactly what Christmas gift-giving forces me to do. The thought of impending snowfalls makes me think of nothing but an infinite pile of slush around my ankles for three months. When I was a kid, things were different. I had no job, therefore no money, therefore no gift list. I just seemed to have an unending mountain of presents around my holiday sweater-clad stomach. If a white Christmas was coming, I would press my nose to the frosted windows and watch my breath condense as I reveled in the softly falling flakes, amazed how they could amass as layers of snow.
Christmas used to be about genuine greetings. To the casual acquaintance, a simple “Merry Christmas” would bring about an unexpected smile, and would mean more than a present given out of obligation. Now we are faced with drawing lines between good friends and not-so good friends, determining who is worthy of a gift. “Well, I hang out with Anna three times a week, but I only see Carla in passing. If I get a gift for Anna then Carla will be mad, so I guess I have to buy Carla something too, and…” The cycle stretches on, and pretty soon my suitemate’s best friend’s roommate’s boyfriend is on my gift list.
Christmas used to be about adaptation. Children use a vast array of simple household leftovers to craft inexpensive presents for mothers and fathers. Old school pictures are crudely cut out and glued to just about anything: a plastic ball, a cardboard picture frame decorated with shiny stickers. Gifts created with a youthful innocence carried a sense of pride upon completion; I couldn’t wait for Christmas morning so my father could open his framed picture of me that I made. Elbow macaroni noodles drenched in paste were stuck haphazardly to pieces of green and red construction paper, and it was the best gift my mother received all Christmas. Now I scour the stores for gifts, at the mercy of money-hungry merchants. The purchase of a gift is not accompanied by pride, but rather relief: one more person I can cross off my list. The season is not about creativity, but monetary expression.
Christmas used to be about family. I would peer outside and look up and down the block at the massive houses covered in webs of tiny lightbulbs in amazement. How could anybody be tall enough to stretch the cord around the chimney top? Sitting around the fire my father built with slabs of firewood from the backyard and a little lighter fluid, I would huddle with my sister under our knit ivory blanket as “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” played on TV for the fifth time that day. We were still utterly captivated by the animation. When my social circle seemed much smaller as a child, I would spend hours in the company of my immediate family and close friends at a few holiday parties. Now getting even my immediate family together for a few measly hours to celebrate the holidays is a task of ridiculous proportions. Party invitations from distant relatives abound, and my parents force us to attend out of obligation, not desire.
Christmas used to be about tradition. I would squeak out Christmas carols in my “big kid” voice as my mother and I kneaded dough side-by-side at the kitchen counter for the umpteenth batch of cookies. Now I am so consumed with the stress of buying gifts and wrapping gifts and delivering gifts that asking me to transfer a batch of cookies from the baking sheet to the marble countertop to cool turns into an argument.
[october]Christmas used to be fun. When I was a child, I floated through the holidays without a care in the world, in awe of the magic of the season. The trees, the tinsel, the thrills; it all made me permanently wide-eyed and slack-jawed. My senses couldn’t take in all the wonder of the holidays. Now the stress of the holidays is a great, green, scaly three-headed monster, threatening to take me over if I’m not careful. The signs advertising Christmas gifts were once a pleasure to my eyes; now I am just reminded of the money I’m about to spend and the infinite list of gift recipients.
These developments are both inevitable and supported by my willingness to be a slave to the media. Holiday announcements have been gracing electronic signs and bright paper flyers earlier and earlier every year. I now believe Christmas does start on Oct. 31.
Just because we are older does not mean we have to eliminate all traces of our childlike tendencies. Is it such a crime to want to lick the cookie batter off the spatula? We all possess that innate desire to curl up and watch the snow fall; not because we are supposed to, but because we want to. And a handmade gift has not lost that unique appeal; we have just lost the ability to appreciate giving one. It seems with adult responsibilities comes a neglect for the true spirit of the season: being with the people that matter, with or without presents wrapped in this year’s most popular, glittery paper patterns.

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