My wife has been depressed since about Halloween, and it’s because Christmas this year is going to not be the usual hectic, fun-filled superparty that it has been for the last dozen plus years. Every year, my wife’s mom has invited upwards of 70 people to come enjoy a Christmas dinner at her house, and then cooked for 3 or 4 days beforehand and spent absurd amounts of money on candy and food and decorations, and then partied from 6ish until whenever everyone decided to go home.
This year, she’s not throwing that party, and my wife has been just glum. As she told me more than once, “My Christmas faerie has died.”
Then, we went to Thanksgiving at the MIL’s house — and it was everything that was best about Christmas. We cooked all day, ate a hell of a delicious meal with her brother and his fiancée (and the MIL, naturally), and by surprise, we got to open a couple of Christmas presents early. One of which was the best Christmas present ever*.
My sister-in-law, who I cannot bring myself to call anything but ‘Roo’, in an incredible bit of empathy and understanding, foresaw my wife’s gloom and put together a book: the 12 Days of Christmas. In this book, she noted that we were going to miss the Christmas party this year and decided to instead make sure that we felt the Christmas spirit by leading us on a guided tour of Christmas awesomeness.
She researched a bunch of Christmas-related events that were happening in our area — even buying us tickets to see the local production of The Nutcracker. She invented a bunch of Christmas-themed activities that we could do with our son, including providing a pile of Christmas movies and putting the popcorn right there in the book. She even took into account that we don’t own a microwave, so the popcorn doesn’t need one.
I’ve never seen my wife cry like that. OK, maybe the night we got married. And the morning our son was born. But that’s the level we’re working on here. My sister-in-law not only defibrillated my wife’s Christmas faerie, she gave it a makeover and bought it a tiara and a gown, too. And a new wand.
Did I mention that tiaras and gowns are kind of her thing? Yeah, she was Miss Washington a few years back.
So now that I’ve totally distracted all of the guys reading this, on to the part of the post where I have a big revelation and decide to change my life for the better.
I’ve been lucky enough to participate not just in my wife’s family’s Christmas Eve ritual for the past many years, but their Christmas Morning ritual as well. This involves everyone claiming dozens of square feet in the enormous living room and then literally hundreds of presents being brought out for everyone to open. The thing about this ritual that took me years to understand, though, was why everyone was always clamoring to have the presents that they gave opened first.
I mean, I get the whole ’tis better to give than to receive’ thing — I totally do. But this was a level beyond just “I’m a great person because I gave the people I love stuff they wanted.” I didn’t really get it until I understood that it wasn’t about the gifts themselves — it was about finding the gifts. It was about the fact that every October-December (and for my mother-in-law, it’s frequently February-December), this family will stumble upon something, think “Wow, my sister would love this,” and then buy that thing — not because it was necessarily on a Christmas list (though that never hurt), but because they knew each other well enough to know what would work and what wouldn’t. The reward for their success was the delight and surprise and happiness of the person opening the gift — and delighting someone you love really is better than being delighted by someone you love. It’s that whole worth economy thing again.
They also loved each other enough to get things that were random and awesome just because they were random and awesome. I can literally look around my house and see awesome stuff that they acquired for me just sitting around, being awesome. Chinese hook swords, sets of rare Magic: the Gathering cards — heck, half of my wardrobe is Christmas stuff that was just random and awesome, and so it had to be mine.
I realized, looking at Roo’s gift to my family — literally, the gift of Christmas spirit — that there was actually no greater gift that it was possible to give my wife. Christmas is such an intensely vital part of my wife’s composition that it was actually tearing her up inside to be unable to spend it with her family, and her family knew it and saw it and made it better in the most amazing possible way.
I want my son to experience that kind of feeling towards Christmas. I can tell you that my son loves Santa Claus like he was family, and that he knows deep within his heart of hearts that Santa really is going to bring him a pogo stick this year, because he knows that Santa just loves him that much. When he finally does figure out that Santa Claus is Mommy and Nonna and Daddy and Uncle Cody and Aunt Roo, I hope it doesn’t change how he feels about Christmas one bit — because I hope he understands that we really all DO love him that much.
In order to do that, i have to master the art of thoughtful giving — which means mastering the ability to think about what another person wants and needs and how they feel. I’m not very good at that; I’m the onliest child I’ve ever met. But with the constant good examples of my wife’s family and a steadfast Capricornian determination to succeed, I’ll pull it off. Maybe even by next Christmas.
* Along with all of the other Best Christmas Presents Ever we’ve received over the years. 😛