I have a border collie. Anyone who has one of these dogs knows how much energy they have. He’s an awesome dog. The smartest dog I’ve ever had the pleasure of having in my household. I’ve taught the dog to help me with the laundry. No, I’m not kidding.
But, sometimes, on those long cold winter nights he has just a little TOO much energy because his walk was cut short due to Arctic like wind chills. This translates into him getting a little destructive. Mind you, he doesn’t tear apart the house or anything. But he does like to go after the presents under the tree. Not ALL of them, but enough that I’m afraid he’d open one up (or five) up and ruin the surprise for someone. So I’ve taken to putting our little “play yard” we used to have for our ducks (yes, we had ducks) around the tree so he can’t get to it. It’s in the crawl space right now because there are no presents under the tree.
Enter Mr. B. I’ve known him since childhood. He has this hard, sarcastic exterior. Hilarious, don’t get me wrong, but most people are kind of wary of him because of it. He’s a big softy though, or at least he is with the few people he loves. He’s an avid gamer. As I’ve pointed out SO many times in the past he actually plays Xbox and PS3 longer some weeks than I sleep. He has a job, and he DOES fix things around the house, etc, but any spare time he does have, that’s what he’s doing. That doesn’t disturb me. What disturbs me is that is the ONLY hobby he really has. There’s so much out there to experience.
I don’t take issue with gaming. I LOVE gaming. I do it whenever I can. I can even get rather addicted to it. I can play hours and hours on end. If I were to add up the amount of hours I’ve played I’d probably throw up. But it’s entertainment, nothing more. It doesn’t “give” or “teach” you anything. It’s FUN, but effectively a waste of time. A fabulous escapism wonderfully entertaining waste of time. It has it’s place, no doubt. For some people, it’s their whole world. For me, I can’t help but find that a little sad. All it really does is entertain you, make you lazy, fat, make your gratification levels sparse, your attention span even more sparse.
I know it sounds like I’m ripping gaming. I’m not. I can’t imagine a world without it. But I’m saying: It shouldn’t replace REAL life. And it can so easily for some people. (See: World Of Warcraft).
So I say to Mr. B: “We’ve got to put up the gate around the tree again so he doesn’t chew on presents.”
Probably out of simply NOT wanting to drag the gate out he replies “Why? He doesn’t do that any more. I didn’t put it up last year.”
“Yes we did.” I say
“Oh. Well, he won’t chew on the presents.” He says
“Are you so confident he won’t chew on the presents that you are willing to take the risk of ruining someone’s Christmas” I ask
He looks down and says “Ok, I’ll put up the gate.”
This starts a conversation about how the PS3 is just a “thing.” It’s neither beautiful, nor useful. It’s entertainment. He just keeps saying “Yeah, well, I like my things.”
“Yes, I know he won’t chew on them.” He replies confidently.
“Ok, then how about this. If he chews on any, I get to sell your PS3 to pay for the ruined gifts.” I say smugly.
He looks down and says “Ok, I’ll put up the gate.”
This starts a friendly debate on “things.” I argue, the PS3 is just a THING. It’s neither useful nor beautiful. It has no sentimental value. It’s not a grandparents wedding ring or a family picture, nor is it canned food or a grain mill. In the grand scheme of things, it will do nothing for you at all. This is all theoretical, I don’t actually care about the PS3. I care more about the fact that people never think about how attached they are to some things.
I like my gadgets, yes. But I wouldn’t cry if I had to give them up.
He argues with me about how much I love my IPhone. Surely that’s just like the PS3, he argues.
No, I say. The only reason I love my IPhone is because it’s how I connect with PEOPLE. My IPhone is basically tantamount to staying in touch with my family and friends more frequently than I ever could before. Yeah, it’s handy and convenient because I can do a lot of work from it. I definitely got it for that reason. But i had a Ipod touch for years and didn’t use it. Because there wasn’t much motivation. There were no “people” on it. I got rid of it and 2 years after getting rid of it I got my Iphone. So, not THAT important.
I want an IPad, he points out. Again, that’s convenience and keeping in touch with people. And it’s a cool gadget. But I don’t NEED it, nor do I HAVE to have, nor would I bat an eye having to sell it if my dog needed a vet visit.
Somewhere along this conversation I said “This is what I HATE about Christmas. GREED. People HAVING to have things. People don’t know what the word NEED means any more.”
He slipped in sarcastically “That’s what Christmas is about. Getting shit. And about Jesus or something.” (He was being sarcastic. He’s also not religious. Can you tell?)
I knew he was joking but I took the open to go into a rant.
We never went “without” on Christmas. Even though I grew up poor with a working mother, we always had presents. But as I get older I realize at what real cost that was. How hard that was for her. I also realized I really don’t remember the presents, I remember the excitement. I remember everything leading UP to the presents and the feelings AFTER the presents.
I grew up in a European household, so we always opened presents Christmas Eve night. We had the week before Christmas off school and there was so much excitement! Especially the years where my mom could get the time off work the same time we had Christmas vacation. Waking up to the smell of cookies. Being shooed out of the bedroom when she was wrapping presents. The smell of the food Christmas Eve morning cooking away. Sitting and eating dinner BRIMMING with excitement
My mother would serve dinner and my brother and I would scarf it down as fast as humanly possible knowing what came next: PRESENTS! But…I don’t really remember the presents. I actually don’t think it was really the presents that was exciting. It was the WHOLE thing. The whole shebang. I just remember the excitement. She could have wrapped up dog turds and I think we would have been just as happy.
My mother (rest in peace!) would purposely eat REAL slowly just to torture my brother and I. It worked. Inevitably every year she’d say the exact same thing, very slowly and sleepily, as if at any minute she’d call the whole thing off for a nap:
“Now, the dishes have to be done, and done RIGHT, clean up the kitchen, and I have to get my coffee and light the fireplace and then we will open presents.” She would be grinning by the end.
There was no sense in groaning. For the only time during the whole year my brother and I WOULDN’T argue who was going to “wash” and who would “Dry” the dishes. I’d put the coffee on for my mom (a little sucking up never hurt) and she’d purposely wait until we were all done so she could “inspect” and make sure the dishes were done right. She didn’t do this in a drill sergeant way at all. Just kind of peaked her nose at the dishes and would nod. It was all for effect, you see. I’m SURE in our rush we left food stuck to the plate and never once did she make us do it again.
She would play like she was going to be lazy and just sit there while we slaved, but she always got up and cleaned up the kitchen and put away the food. This made short work of the “cleaning up” phase. She’d grab her coffee and head downstairs to the fireplace. We’d damn near be peeing our pants dancing with excitement.
Finally we’d open gifts. One at a time, very slowly. We never RIPPED open our presents. We didn’t have a ton of presents so I think we just instinctively took our time. I remember my brother and I always being WAY more excited for my mom to open her presents from us than the other way around. No matter how few presents we had, we would do our best to draw it out. Because we loved the ritual so much, not the gifts really. After each gift was opened, we’d thank one another and tell a little story about when and how it was bought or made, then the person would go on about how much they liked it and what they were going to do with it or why they wanted it so badly. That’s the type of stuff I remember.
After all was said and done, we’d sit there and talk and play with our things, basking under the tons of Christmas tree lights surrounding us, until retiring to bed. Maybe pick at a couple of Christmas cookies before we fell asleep. And It was wonderful.
After mom passed away my brother and I have kept up that tradition. Having him here at the house for Christmas always delights me because he’s just as excited. He never lost that excitement. He’s dancing in his seat and hurrying up and eating and going “Come on! Come on!” He’s 35 by the way.
We do the same thing every year. Only I’ve taken the place of saying “Alright, I gotta do the dishes, clean up, etc” and make everyone else dance in their seats. I can see why Mom had so much fun with that…I’m happy to carry on that tradition.
And we open them the same way, one by one, telling little stories. It’s great. It’s magic. That’s Christmas. Being together. The memories. Screw the presents.
In this day in age, you wouldn’t know it. Kids are more greedy now that I’ve ever known them to be. I once had a friend who’s son had TWO DS systems. I asked her, in passing, if she’d want to sell one to me because I wanted to give it as a gift. I mistakenly thought perhaps he’d gotten two for a birthday or something and couldn’t take them back for some reason. I mean why the hell else would a 6 year old have two of those? (Why the hell would a 6 year old have a $250 game system, but that’s a different rant).
She informed me that No, she couldn’t sell me one because one was blue and one was green and he got them because he wanted BOTH colors.
Are you f&*(ing kidding me?
Same damn game system just a different color? $500 in JUST game system for a 6 year old? I’m sorry. That’s ridiculous. That’s greed. And worse yet, that’s parents ENABLING greed in their children.
Greed is a curse word. Greed is the ugliest word. I hate NOTHING more than hearing kids go “THAT’S MINE!” Or “I WANT THAT! NOW!” Unreal.
My BFF has become kind of dejected by Christmas because her parents go overboard on buying presents for her children. I’ve given up buying anything real great for them either because honestly they rip through the presents so fast because they have to. Because if they didn’t they’d be up all night. They don’t check who it’s from or even to some degree what it is and all is forgotten the next day. You can’t compete with that and nor should you try. But she knows, and I know, the damage it’s doing to those children. How disappointed they are going to be when they get older and don’t have Christmases like that any more. They are learning nothing but what they are getting, and how much they are getting. There’s nothing else to it. Pookie and I have talked long and hard about this and it’s a shame. I’ve no doubt the intentions are good, but at what point does it just foster greed?
My cousin told me a few years back that my aunts get SO many things for her kids for Christmas that they actually GET. TIRED. of opening presents and want to stop. She says after about 4 hours, they are asking when it’s over. Think about that for a minute. 4 hours worth of opening presents. Kids getting TIRED of opening presents. All it does is FOSTER greed.
We, as adults, have no one to blame but ourselves for this. And it’s so easily remedied in my opinion. It’s easy to stop. And I’m NOT saying all children are greedy. Of course they aren’t. This is more about breeding out the consumerist spirit of Christmas than it is about behavioral problems in our children.
Truth be told, I grew up poor. I grew up around people even more poor until we moved to the suburbs where everyone seemed to have money. Then we went from the better-off-poor-family to the super-poor family. I never wanted for memories or love though. And what matters more?
I was always inclined to do charity work, even as a kid. Chalk that up to being an Aquarius, I don’t know, but I truly do believe that Service is the rent you pay for life on this planet. I think that’s why I’m not full of greed. My mother really fostered this way of thinking. She never shied away from helping me do anything humanitarian in nature as a kid. We were poor but somehow she always found money to get me a book of stamps to send letters off to help save the seals, or find money to help me buy gifts for kids that didn’t have any for Christmas.
Now, as an adult, I still do those things. I knit squares to be sent off to be made into blankets that are given to the homeless. I knit preemie and chemo caps. I knit bears for AIDS orphans. I put together kits for kids who can’t afford a birthday party, buy presents for the elderly, deliver meals, buy gifts off the giving tree.
I’m not giving you this list to brag because in my opinion, it’s nothing brag worthy. I could do more certainly. A friend of mine said to me “Jesus, you’re a saint.”
I actually got pissed at that comment. That’s ridiculous. I’m a saint for giving some time and effort? To be doing what I should be doing anyway? I didn’t touch lepers for the love of god. I knew he didn’t MEAN any harm by the statement, I just got so upset. All I replied is:
“No, I’m not a saint. I don’t have any more compassion than anyone else. You apparently are just used to selfish assholes.” But more accurately, he’s used to being apathetic and expects everyone else to be apathetic as well. It’s not a malicious apathy. Most people won’t turn their heads when someone in need is in their face. It’s a casual apathy. We know we are lucky, we know people out there need help, we really WANT to help, maybe we intend to, but we’ve just had such a busy time lately…
And realize, please dear reader, that doing NOTHING is kind of selfish. I can’t force you into charity and I won’t try, I’m merely trying to get you to see this thing in a different light than you may be currently seeing it. I know right now Ayn Rand enthusiasts are plotting to burn me in my yard I’m sure. But in this country where we have SO many resources and SO much wasted, useless consumerism, I don’t think it’s a “public” responsibility to help. I think it’s an individual one. Restore the sense of community. Restore your compassion. Being self absorbed hurts you and endless people around you. You don’t have to do much, but perhaps it’s time to do something? And MEANING to do something doesn’t count. This is one situation where “the thought counts” does not apply. No matter how small, you CAN do SOMETHING. And in the process of being selfless, you might find out a little more about yourself than you thought.
My point is every little bit helps. And kids should know that. Kids NEED to know that. Kids need to see what real suffering is, what being needy means, what NEEDING something is really all about. And I guarantee that it’ll help change their mind about Christmas. It’s not a guilt thing, it’s a reality thing. Most children are very warm hearted by nature, it’s life and circumstance that hardens them, so most children I’ve seen get involved in this type of thing really enjoy it. They feel purpose. They feel like they’ve actually made a difference. They start to “get it”, so to speak.
Every year I make everyone in the house pick a project to donate to. They can pick ANYTHING they want: they can donate time, gifts, their vehicle to deliver meals, they can choose a children’s organization, elderly, poverty stricken, homeless, animal organizations, environmental organizations. Anything. I have only two rules: You have to do it by Christmas and you can’t just put money in an envelope.
The first year I got a bit of shuffling feet. As adults, they know they can’t just say “I don’t wanna” without sounding like a total asshole. Now, after years, not only are they excited to do it and pick their project, but I notice they do it without my persistence when it’s not Christmas. That’s progress.
Imagine what it would do for your kid, or YOU for that matter, to donate a little bit of time and effort? To people who don’t have it off as good as you. For animals that don’t have it as well off as your Fido who toasts himself by the fire on Christmas morning?
There are PLENTY of places for you to do this. PLENTY! Everywhere. You don’t have to look hard. Try volunteermatch.org
If you can, make it a monthly thing. Or a quarterly thing. Do what you can and get the kids involved. Eventually I guarantee they’ll love doing it. So will you. There’s nothing, absolutely NOTHING like the feeling of delivering a hot meal to an elderly person who’s family is gone, or perhaps who doesn’t have any, whom for the holidays are a sad time because they can no longer travel, or cook, or afford to put anything on the table nonetheless under the tree. The light that shines on their face when you show up with a hot meal, maybe a gift of a gourmet coffee, and an hour of your time to chat over a hot cuppa. It’s priceless. It’s moving. And there is absolutely nothing on the planet that will make you realize not only how lucky you. And to restore your faith in how warm, loving, grateful, unselfish and wonderful people can really are.
Screw presents. THAT, up there, THAT is what Christmas is about.