A long time ago, Christmas was about giving gifts, not just receiving them. That’s what I told my son a few weeks ago while tucking him into bed. Whether or not this is accurate, my purpose was to turn the conversation away from “I want” and focus a bit more on gathering, creating, and giving. My son is calculated and conscientious. As we talked, I could tell he was listening.
The next evening we were mingling at the neighborhood holiday party when bells began to jingle. Santa walked into the room with his mighty “ho-ho-ho.” It was a good looking Santa: nice, velvety-red suit; a genuine white, bushy beard; and a sweet, gentle face. Some kids ran up to him, others ran to their parents and clutched a familiar leg.
Saint Nick made his rounds–he greeted little ones, shook hands with parents and neighbors, and handed each a simple candy cane. He then took a seat by the small, plastic tree. He was open for business–open to receive requests, lists, and hopeful wishes.
My son took his time before joining the line. First, he observed each kid speak with the jolly old elf. Then, he noticed Santa wasn’t just taking requests, but also handing out a gift! A ball! Some were neon orange, others green. Some were solid, with lights that flashed when dropped on the floor. Others had tie dye patterns.
The line diminished, and my son stood patiently waiting. Finally, the age-old question was directed to him, “And what would you like for Christmas this year?” He and Santa discussed his list, and then Santa reached inside his bag, fumbled around a little, and emerged with…the very last ball! Upon receiving it, my son mumbled “thank you,” then walked away.
Rather than joining the kids at the other end of the room who were kicking, throwing and tackling their new gift, he took a seat next to Dad. He slouched. He set the ball down on the chair next to him. “Aren’t you going to play?” “No,” he shook his head. I looked down–the ball was pink with purple hearts. It was unique; not another ball like it. The problem was, as much as this ball may have appealed to some children, it wasn’t to his liking. He swallowed hard and worked to gain control of his lower lip.
The long and short is that we had to leave. It was too sad watching all the other boys playing with the gifts they were so happy about. And as often as I tell my kids you get what you get and don’t throw a fit, I was disappointed too. Disappointed that an evening which started with so much magic, ended up being about a thing. Santa’s presence had been a gift in itself.
We walked home and my son regained composure. We spoke about how Santa’s good intentions mistakenly led to disappointment. We revisited the complex emotions around giving and receiving, and how the holiday season was never meant to be about wanting or consumerism. Before arriving home, my son decided he’d give the ball to his little sister who wasn’t able to attend the party that evening.
The evening was a good lesson for all of us. Our presence is often the best present to give. So Santa, if there is one gift you give to me this Christmas, I ask for children with happy, sparkling eyes, and that all of us find joy in the gift of spending time together.