My family is extremely traditional. My parents still live in the house where my brother and I grew up. (It’s always refreshing and familiar to visit home and my mom always puts a package of Ferrero Rocher’s on my pillow before my arrival.) Up until last year, holidays have been the same familiar routine. We all congregate at my Grandparents’ home (built by my Dad and Grandpa in the 80s) on five acres of land with two dogs, ten chickens, one rooster, and eight vintage Farmall tractors (Grandpa’s hobby is restoring them) and stuff ourselves silly, no matter what we’re celebrating. Last year things in the family started to change. All of the grandkids are now adults. The first great-grandchild, Baby Theo, joined the family last October. My cousin Edward put down roots in China. This year things are even more different. Edward is now in India and Andrew, his brother, has joined him for a few months. Elizabeth, their sister, is in Africa for a year, so the big family gatherings are considerably smaller.
My brother Nicholas is going to graduate from college in May and is spending a lot of time contemplating what he wants out of life and what is most important to him. Thanks to his introspective reflection on what he truly values, he suggested that instead of exchanging gifts on Christmas morning, we buy presents for a needy family of four. My parents and I loved the idea, so on Black Friday we braved the consumer madness and purchased Christmas gifts for our adopted family. It was a lot of fun to shop as a family, and it was much more fulfilling to give to a good cause instead of giving each other silly presents like kitchen gadgets, coffee table books, or Snuggies. This new direction in gift-giving was a relief to me, because as a currently homeless person, I have worried about storing Christmas gifts in the trunk of my car where space is limited as well as what to do with the things people give me that I don’t have a place for.
A couple of days before Christmas, my mom and I discussed what we would do in lieu of gifts. Go for a family jog? Not with dad’s bad back. Make a breakfast feast? Not before a day of feasting at the Grandparent’s house. Would we be bored without the excitement of a gift exchange? On Christmas morning, we were slow to get up and about. It was so relaxing not to be pressured to get up early and open gifts. There was a small arrangement of packages under the tree and my mom still filled our stockings with goodies (candy, nuts, magazines). Gifts from “Santa” were simple- a Visa gift cards for us kids, wine, scented candles, hand cream, travel books. It was our most minimal Christmas yet and we loved every minute of it, just sitting around the Christmas tree enjoying the company.
The best present was a letter my brother wrote to my mom that brought us to tears. The sincerity and sweetness of it was absolutely moving. We all agreed that as a family we are blessed, and have everything we need. Obligatory Christmas gift-giving is now behind us and it is a relief for everyone. We can look forward to future Christmases in which we give to another needy family, avoid the hustle and bustle of the shopping season, and just spend time focusing on what’s most important in life: each other.
Merry Christmas yall!