Every Christmas, I see the post. It’s sanctimonious, almost prissy in tone. It nearly always comes from Christmas purists — not necessarily the religious, but those who have thought seriously about “the reason for the season,” probably while listening to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s “Carol of the Bells” on repeat. They rail against materialism. They rail against overconsumption. They rail about the busyness of December, the money spent during the season, and the credit card debt amassed in the name Santa F. Claus. And so, they smugly claim, their kids will receive exactly four presents, all pressed together in a preschool ditty: Something you want, something you need, something to wear, and something to read.
To which I give a holly jolly “fuck that.”
Ever since the first wise man dropped some gold at the Christ Child’s cradle, Christmas has been all about the loot. Jesus got gold, frankincense, and myrrh — all of which are super expensive, out-of-his-parents’-price-bracket gifts. Joseph would have had to go into hock to Jerusalem Mastercard for years to afford that stuff. The Christmas tradition of giving extravagantly is as old as freaking Christmas. Even the little drummer boy got in on the action. He might not have had much, but he gave it. He didn’t sit back and say he was too broke to do Christmas this year.
So, in the grand old tradition of the little baby Jesus, my kids will be getting loot this year. Not a little bit of loot, either, if we can manage it. They’ll get lots of loot: lots of stuff they want, maybe one or two things they need, nothing to wear, and plenty to read.
They’ll get mostly stuff they want. My middle son will be awash in Spinosauruses. My youngest will sit in a pile of Play-Doh. My oldest may receive some old school Nintendo games. All will get Matchbox cars and plastic dinosaurs and Legos. (Okay, the baby will get Minifigs.)
This says nothing about what their two sets of grandparents or their godparents will buy them. They will be a sea in presents. And no Santa here: All the gifts are from us. I’m not pawning off my awesome on some jolly old elf.
I’m not wasting Christmas on buying things my kids need. I do that every damn day, and it’s no fun to mask them as presents. What do you do, buy your kids a graphing calculator and say Merry fuckin’ Christmas? The same goes with clothes. I’m not gift-wrapping socks and underwear. That just feels mean.
For kids, Christmas is for presents. The Jesus thing is pretty hard to grasp, though we do our best to push it because that’s what we believe. Peace on earth and goodwill to men? Maybe. But if you want to talk about peace on earth, you have to talk about war on earth, and they are not ready to go there yet.
We can say that Christmas means you’re extra nice to everyone, but be honest: What do the kids focus on? It’s the loot. They love the tree because that’s where the presents go. They love the stories about Santa because he’s the one who brings the presents. (At least for some people — like I said, my kids will be thanking me, not some mythical red-suited maniac, on Christmas morning.) They love everything about Christmas because everyone is talking ‘bout the man with the bag, because all the commercials feature giant red bows, and because everyone walks around asking them, “What do you want for Christmas?”
So we play it up, and I make no apologies for that. That doesn’t mean we lack empathy for families who have fallen on hard times or hold some kind of grudge on families who take a more minimalist approach.
Getting stuff is an important part of Christmas. So is a meal with family, my mom’s nut roll, my husband’s oyster casserole, and endless viewings of A Christmas Story. So is going to church and worshiping the Christ Child (you know, the one who gets all those presents). So is volunteering, donating, and helping those less fortunate. But so is just simply getting stuff. And that means on Christmas, we make sure the kids get stuff.
This isn’t a matter of not disappointing them. They’d be happy with only a few things. (Celebrating Christmas with a bunch of presents doesn’t make my kids assholes.) But Christmas is kids in matching pajamas running into the living room and saying, “Wow! Thanks, Mom! Thanks, Dad!” and ripping into their presents in a flurry of flying paper.
So we’ll be over here, under the mistletoe and beside the Christmas village, in an orgy of gift-giving madness — of more than something you want, something you need, something to wear and something to read.
It’s fun. It’s magic. It’s freaking Christmas.