Fewer Presents, More Presence

I knew I was old when my daughter called me last night and said she won’t be exchanging any Christmas presents this year, “except for the kids.”

I breathed a sigh of relief.

“Ahh … that’s finally over with,” I thought, supremely thankful that she’d had the grace to announce her intentions on the day before Black Friday, before I’d started my Christmas shopping.

I love my daughters, but trying to guess what gifts would bring them pleasure, frantically wrapping said gifts, cramming them into shipping boxes, standing in long lines at the post office, and paying extra just so they’d arrive by December 25 was something I wouldn’t miss (especially since I usually don’t begin the process until December 15).

And I knew they were probably struggling with the same ordeal: buying (or in many cases making), wrapping, and mailing their usual abundance of gifts, all with tight schedules and limited budgets.

For years, I dutifully trudged in and out of stores searching for the perfect gifts that I imagined would make my daughters’ eyes light up with glee. I baked cookies, knit scarves, and framed my own photos for them. I then graduated to letting someone else make the gifts by shopping at Etsy. It was fun and festive for a few days, and then it quickly became a disheartening matter of settling for things I wasn’t sure they’d even like.

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How they probably looked after opening presents from me.

As bad as that sounds, for the past couple of years our family has hit a new low: the Amazon Gift List, which basically boils down to the following interaction:

Recipient: “I want all of these things on my Gift List! You can buy them right now! It’s so convenient! I’m only telling you this to make your life easier!”

Me: “But these things are not at all unique! Don’t you trust me to buy you something wonderful?”

Recipient: “No comment. And now look: I’ve added even more things to my Gift List!”

Me: “Well … but it seems so impersonal … I don’t know …”

Amazon: “Don’t worry, there’s free shipping! Would you like a gift card with that?”

Me: (Sigh) “Sure.”

(Just kidding. My family isn’t really like that.)

My daughter’s current sentiments (seconded by my other daughter, my stepdaughter, and my husband) have finally allowed me to enjoy the holidays. Yes, I’ll still go a little crazy trying to come up with fun, exciting, and educational gifts for the three young ones in our family (books are always a good choice) but now I’ll actually be able to focus on fewer gifts for a change. Maybe I’ll make some by hand. I could even use my savings to make a donation to a worthy cause.

This is even more appealing when I think of how much I hate shopping. It wasn’t always so. I actually enjoyed shopping once upon a time, when I was about 15 years old. Department stores had fancy window displays and heavy revolving doors. When you pushed your way through them, you entered into a calm, orderly world of carpeted floors, gliding elevators, and the subtle fragrance of expensive perfume.

In high school, I’d ride the city bus downtown to the prestigious Sibley’s to do a little window shopping. The clothes sold at Sibley’s were well-made, and hence, I usually couldn’t afford them (but I liked trying them on). Then I’d head across the street to McCurdy’s basement in search of a bargain.

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How I felt while shopping at Sibley’s.

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How I actually looked.

Finally, I’d have lunch or a snack upstairs at McCurdy’s classy yet affordable restaurant, which made me feel pampered and rich again. Sometimes I’d meet a friend there. Shopping was a social event in my youth. Now it’s an agonizing ordeal for me, at best.

This year, there will be fewer presents to go around, but perhaps greater presence of mind, and more time to reflect on other gifts — such as peace, good will, charity, and light — all of which are celebrated around the world in December. There will always be other opportunities to buy things and mail them off when the urge hits me. I’m just glad I don’t have to do it right now.

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3 thoughts on “Fewer Presents, More Presence

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