The turkey is not even on the table yet and most of us are already thinking about Christmas. For the past week or more, the retailers have been relentless in reminding us about Black Friday, the high holy day of materialism. Getting up at dark thirty and going to a crazy crowded store and fighting over the “it” toy of the season is just not my thing. If it is yours, please have at it. Have my share. Enjoy.
Yesterday Sean and I were at the grocery store and we ran into a friend of ours. As we chatted, she mentioned that she had all of her Christmas shopping done for her children except for the big things. Without thinking, I said “I don’t think there will be any big things under our tree this year.”
That was a really dumb thing to say.
I didn’t really mean to say it out loud. I probably made her feel badly for saying it, which was not my intention. Her statement was completely innocuous and nearly everyone I know utters that sentence sooner or later during the holidays.
But the fact of the matter is, there will not be big things under our Christmas tree this year — partly out of necessity and partly out of design.
And in an odd sort of way the necessity facilitates the design. In an odd sort of way the tremendous love we have for our boy inspires in us a desire to give him more than is good for him. In an odd sort of way having less than he wants will make him more. In an odd sort of way, in the dearth of excess there is abundance and in excess there is emptiness. And all of these things conflict, confuse and claw at the heart.
Earlier in the year, we read the entire Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series with Sean. We loved the books, but in many places they were hard to read. Laura’s life was charming and simple, but not at all easy.
There was one winter in particular where her family faced the very real possibility of either freezing or starving to death. It seemed only a matter of which would come first. What has been wonderful about reading the Little House stories with Sean is that he can then look around and see his nice warm house with a full pantry and see how blessed he is. He is able to come to this conclusion on his own which is much more effective than his parents haranguing at him, “You don’t know how good you have it. You have everything. You should be grateful. Blah. Blah. Grateful. Blah.”
In one of the Little House books, it is Christmastime and it has been a typically challenging winter. Laura and her sister are expecting nothing, certainly nothing big, but on Christmas morning they each receive a tin cup, a peppermint, a little heart-shaped cake Ma had made, and a penny. And the only reason they got those things is because a neighbor risked his life to get across an icy river to bring it to them.
There was such beauty in that scene – in the selflessness of the neighbor, in the absence of expectation and entitlement, in the smallness of the gifts, in the delight of the children. I have since wondered if we don’t deny ourselves that beauty in our quest for big things.
So this year there will be some nice things for Sean under our tree, if not big things.
But also this year, and every year after, there will be a box with a tin cup, little heart-shaped cake, a peppermint and a penny.