If you know me in real life, you probably think that I am not a huge fan of Christmas, and that’s sort of true, but it’s only part of the story.
As a kid, I loved Christmas in the typical manner. Even though I know now that my parents didn’t have a lot of extra cash, it never felt sparse or tight on Christmas morning. I can’t really ever remember a year when I was totally sold on a present and didn’t get it, but my mom had a way of managing my expectations in such a manner that I didn’t really expect any kind of insane gifts. Asking Santa for something was never a sure thing, but more like, “Well, Santa will see what he can do.” Santa was getting up in years, after all, and with toys getting so technologically advanced (like Teddy Ruxpin and NES), it was hard for him to keep up and I really couldn’t be mad if I didn’t get every toy on my list. One year, I asked for a “Crimp n’ Curl” Cabbage Patch Kid, and my mom said she found an article saying that the dolls were low-quality and that they didn’t get good reviews. Now, let me stop here and say that I have no idea what the real story was. Maybe the doll was too expensive when combined with other gifts I’d asked for that year, or maybe they were out of stock everywhere and my parents couldn’t find one, but this was 1991. I’m pretty sure that there wasn’t a newspaper article reviewing the pros and cons of the Crimp n’ Curl Cabbage Patch kid. But, my mom’s master plan worked. On Christmas morning, I wasn’t disappointed to find out that I hadn’t received a Crimp n’ Curl Cabbage Patch Kid because I was a savvy consumer (or at least the seedling of a one), and I didn’t want any kind of sub-par product.
Elissa tells me that I am impossible to buy a gift for because if I want something, I save my money and buy it for myself. This is true. I am borderline fanatical about reading reviews, watching prices and making informed purchases. I am not the kind of person that would like an unsolicited digital camera, for example, because I have very specific preferences when it comes to brands and features. I recently bought the new 8.9 inch Kindle Fire HD, but not until I compared it with the Galaxy Nexus 10, The Samsung Galaxy Tab, the Asus Transformer series, and the new Microsoft Surface. (Note: Not the iPad. Never the iPad!) I think this can all be tied back to my Christmas experiences as a kid, because A) my mother showed me, whether in earnest or as a trick, that you can’t base your purchasing decisions off of enticing marketing and B) if Santa ever did miss something that I really wanted, I just saved my Christmas money and bought it myself later on. I think this took a lot of the pressure off of my parents, because there wasn’t ever a make-or-break Christmas present that would elate/devastate me.
As I get older and I compare Christmas traditions with my friends, I’ve realized that Christmas was a completely non-religious event in my family. I went to a Catholic school because it was close to my house and happened to be free, so I got the usual Advent/Jesus/manger fare there, but at home, Christmas was a secular event focused around giving gifts, seeing family, and decorating the house. You wouldn’t have heard any kind of “Reason for the Season” or “Happy Birthday, Jesus!” rhetoric in my house, but don’t get me wrong: My mom will still be confused or offended if you say Happy Holidays to her instead of Merry Christmas. She doesn’t understand the irony of this, either, so don’t even try.
The other day when we passed a church, Elissa pointed out that the wise men were “making their way” to the stable, and I noticed for the first time that the wise men weren’t being displayed with the rest of the nativity folk. She explained that when her mom put the nativity scene out every year, two things were important. One, the wise men started out on the other end of the room and worked their way over to Mary and Joseph, and two, the baby Jesus wasn’t displayed until Christmas morning.
Before you say that I grew up in a family of heathens (although I did), let me state for the record that my mother does have a nativity set, and she sets it up under the tree every year. It just happens to be a sort of strange one that she painted in the 70’s when she was going through a ceramics phase. The characters are little kids dressed up as the nativity characters (sort of a low-rent Precious Moments sort of thing), and the baby Jesus is painted right onto the manger, so we didn’t particularly have the option of waiting to put him out. There were no wandering wise men, either. When Elissa said she thought that it was strange that the Nativity set was under the tree instead of on a mantle or something, I countered by saying that my grandma’s nativity set was also under the tree, in a community of cardboard houses that also featured a mirror “lake” with an ice-skater figurine. That’s approximately the point in the story when I realized that I am probably the weird one in this case, but that is only one small battle in our ongoing weirdness war, so I’m sure I’ll be redeemed soon enough.