(I originally published this article at CollinsvilleFirst.org on Nov. 30, 2018)
I remember a few big gifts under the Christmas tree. I remember when Santa gave me a gift that would become one of my favorites: a Tandy Color Computer II. I had been wanting a computer so badly and I had written the letter and just knew that it would arrive. I had a specific computer in mind: an Apple IIe computer with floppy disk drives and a monitor. Some people my age may remember the software that might come with such a computer: Oregon Trail, Pac-Man, PrintShop, AppleWorks… I was just sure that on Christmas morning I would have a powerful computer that could print banners shoot buffalo & deer, and publish my first book :-).
The color computer II hooked to a tape recorder to load files and hooked to a television. My parents were so happy for me as I opened the package, but I wonder if they saw the disappointment in my face. They had worked very hard to get me a computer and I suspect they had invested a lot of their hopes in that package. They thought that a thing would make me happy…and so did I. We both invested our hopes in a computer. We all thought that if the right gift was under the tree it would make Christmas Day great.
So you know, that gift gave me hours of fun and launched my interest in computer programming, but I don’t remember that Christmas because I got a computer. I remember that Christmas because I feel shame for not having gratitude for my parents’ sacrifice. I believe that what truly fulfills us on Christmas is the connection to one another: How we show love (or fail to, in this example). As an adult, I have vivid memories of Christmases past, but the great memories aren’t usually about the gifts. It is the memory of all of my extended family crowded around a large table at grandma phillips’ house. It is the memory of cousins sitting in the floor and handing out Christmas gifts to all the adults before we started opening gifts. It is the memory of my uncle sticking gift bows on my aunts head and, on the Carnes side, of all the adults falling asleep in the living room in the afternoon while the grandkids played with their toys. It is the memory of my sister and parents gathering around the tree: my mother taking pictures of us as we opened each of our gifts and the excitement of going through the stockings that mom had hand-sewn.
The memories of Christmases past are not made of what we get. They are made of the people with whom we share Christmas and how we treat them. We can get so focused on the perfect pies or ham that we spend all day cooking and forget to look up at the memories being made around us. We can get so focused on the perfect gift under the tree that we forget the perfect gift is our presence around the tree. We can get so focused on making the perfect day that we make everyone miserable (oh, we all know someone who has done that, right?) Perhaps the messiness of loving relationships and the imperfect time we spend with one another is what really makes our holiday perfect…