When I allow my mind to touch on the Christmas memories from my childhood, I can still see the piles of presents beneath the tree. We were never a wealthy family, but my parents splurged at Christmas. I know it brought them great joy, to be able to give me something that excited me. Regretfully, my gratitude was short-lived. As soon as I’d ripped off all the gift wrap, I’d race to the phone and call my friends; the first words from my mouth, “What’d ya get?” Clearly, I missed the point that the joy is from the giving, not the receiving.
This year, as mutually promised, we bought each other only one small gift each. We’ve been working toward this for awhile, but never quite made it until this year. I have to admit, it was a choice that came with its own share of guilt. At breakfast, my husband actually apologized for sticking to our promise. Of course, it’s natural to want to give gifts to those we love.
As hard as it was for us to break from the ingrained habits of buying too many presents, my parents still needed a wee bit more convincing. When I objected to the gifts they gave, my dad wrapped me in a big bear hug and said, “You are our only daughter…we love you and we want to give you these things.”
How could I tell him that he was filling his own needs, not mine? How could I tell him that I don’t need them to buy me anything…that the most precious gift they can give me – that they have ever given me – was time and love?
By eliminating stress of shopping trips, I can better appreciate how Christmas is much more than the gifts beneath the tree. I don’t want to go back.
When I think of what my parents have given me over the years, I never dwell on the many toys of my childhood. What comes to mind are the lessons they taught me. My mom demonstrated the irreplaceable values of faith and honesty. She encouraged my artistic endeavours and taught me to cook and sew. I can remember the two of us kneeling on the floor, cutting out the pieces for a dress that she helped me sew for a prom.
My dad taught me to build a snowman, ride a bike, drive a car and mow the lawn. My fondest memories are the times we spent together: family camping trips in summer and snowmobiling in winter.
I remember the time dad raced to my home after I called to say I was sick and had passed out – he didn’t know what to do with me, but at least I was not alone. And the times he lugged furniture and heavy boxes during the many moves of my young adult years, or selflessly ran errands when I was too busy. During one move, mom spent hours scrubbing the floors and baseboards of the new place from top to bottom. I remember the many times she made lunches for us to take on road trips or had a complete supper prepared for us to bring home to our empty kitchen after a long vacation. And the many times they kept Callie-dog when we could not take her along.
In the moment, I didn’t have the words to explain to him how precious it is to me to know in my heart that when I need my parents most, they would be there for me. That having family with us at Christmas means more to me than any wrapped gift beneath the tree.
But, I hope somehow, he knows all these things…even if I find it hard to speak the words.