My seven-year-old is angry that Christmas is still so far off. He draws and redraws calendars to track progress toward the big day. He imagines devices that might speed up time. “But then Christmas would be over so quickly,” we protest. “I would be able to rewind and keep it Christmas forever,” he replies. Of course.
I know but cannot seem to convince him that the best thing about Christmas is the season, not the day, when after only a few hours the whole happy spirit of the thing starts to dissipate like smoke on the wind. Then there you are with nothing between you and cold, bleak January except for New Year’s Eve, a poor excuse for a holiday if there ever was one, even for those of us who are allowed to stay up until midnight.
It’s the gifts, of course. He can’t wait for his presents. It’s impossible for him to think about anything else. How could it be otherwise? Last night, Amy and I mapped out our remaining gift purchases, trying to stay within our budget. As parents, we want our kids to have “enough,” including those one or two marquee presents that, one likes to imagine, they will always remember.
Thinking along these lines, I tried to remember presents from my own childhood. I certainly remember wanting my presents. I remember wondering what was in the brightly colored packages under the tree: hefting them, testing their weight and sound, sometimes even making a tiny surgical tear in the paper—never so big that it would be noticed by an adult, or couldn’t be explained as accident wear and tear—in case some image or word would be enough to tip me off.
But the actual presents? Despited my parents’ herculean efforts to engineer truly magical, abundant-feeling Christmases on a much tighter budget, not many specific items come to mind. A watch. A small electric keyboard. A robotic arm toy that could be manipulated to pick things up. A robot that sensed the edge of tables and turned away. A telescope. Was there a bike, or was that on a birthday? When did the Flexible Flyer sled enter the household? Was it Christmas? (It would eventually be stolen off of our front porch.) Books: The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Universe; The Face in the Frost.
What do I remember? Time with my father, who worked at home and tried to amuse me during the long days of my school’s holiday break. I remember making beds with him and imagining we lived in a hotel that we ran. (“Let’s pretend we’re…” was my preferred mode of play as a kid.) Flying Lego creations in and around the branches of the Christmas tree, perhaps biplanes inspired by my favorite Snoopy Christmas record.
Time with the whole family. I remember listening to The Big Broadcast together, the holiday specials of old-time radio shows Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar and Gunsmoke, often episodes that had aired during World War II and included “commercials” from the time, urging everyone to buy war bonds and give thought to “all the ships at sea and all the troops at war this Christmas season.” Something about the popular culture’s portrayal of Christmas in wartime was so appealing to this naive American child.
Anyway, that’s what I remember: time with family, reading, watching movies. Sitting around the tree, by the fire. Together.
That’s what he’ll remember, I know.
I just have to remember that, when I was his age, all I noticed wanting was my presents.