Even before I grew up and married a man that my mom calls “a nice Jewish boy,” I never really felt like I got into the whole Christmas spirit, at least not in the way that most of America seems to do it.

Having grown up in the boondocks, we never bothered to decorate the yard or the outside of the house at all, leaving it up to the tree and a few strings of lights in the windows to demonstrate our holiday cheer. And, while my mom has somehow always succeeded in getting us piles of fabulous presents, there has never been much stress about gift giving in our family, whether it be for Christmas or birthdays.

In other words, we almost completely bypassed the more superficial, material aspects of Christmas, and as a result I have only warm, fuzzy emotions associated with the whole affair. Judging from what I read and hear elsewhere, this is not the case in many other households. The holidays can be a source of huge stress, and people’s decorations and gift-giving often seem to be another form of one-upsmanship, another way in which one must keep up with the Smiths.

Just yesterday morning, I was in a department store at the mall. I almost never go to the mall, much less during Christmas time, but this year has been so busy that I had to put off most of my gift buying until this week. I was doing my level best to capitalize on a great deal I’d found without getting overwhelmed by the people, the piles of clothing stacked overhead on all sides, and the relentless Christmas carols and announcements they were blasting over the speakers.

As I was sorting through the piles of said clothing, I overheard a woman on a cell phone walking briskly through the store, speaking of course at top volume. She was obviously on a mission to shop, and was complaining vociferously about having five children to shop for all by herself, etc etc. I listened to this conversation until she was out of earshot, marveling to myself about the overwhelming stress that has somehow become associated with this holiday.

It was about that time that I decided to stop shopping and go enjoy some time with my family instead. Because really, it’s not about buying things for them. It’s about them, period. That’s how it always was while I was growing up, and that’s how it is now that we’re adults. It doesn’t matter if there’s a huge pile of presents under the tree this year or a tiny one — the memory of the individual presents rarely lasts anyway. What matters is doing the same things I’ve done on Christmas day for my entire life, and doing them with the people I love. When I have kids, I hope to share the same memories with them.

Most importantly though, I hope I never have to run through the mall ten days before Christmas yelling about how stressed out I am about Christmas. That seems to be thoroughly missing the point.

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