As soon as Turkey day passes, I inevitably begin to feel the impending anxiety of Christmas approaching. My to-do lists grow as my time shrinks. It seems that every year I begin December with great optimism about my ability to do Christmas "right", and every year I exit December exhausted, wondering what happened to all of my good intentions.
I am remembering my final trip to the mall last year, three days before Christmas. My first mistake was believing I could do any Christmas shopping with a 3 year old and a 3 month old in tow. My second mistake was waiting until the last minute to do it. Of course, that may have been because I was trying not to make the first mistake. I was armed with the double stroller and lots of snacks. It seemed that every woman my mother's age and older stopped me to tell me how cute my kids were and how brave I was to go Christmas shopping with two children and then they each had a lengthy, detailed story they wanted to share about the time they had gone shopping with their own children back in the day. While I love women, and love the grandmother age, I began to feel anxious about the ticking time bombs in my stroller. So anxious thinking about all that I had left to do before Christmas and how little time I had left to do it that I could not enjoy the kindly intentions of these women. Instead of shouting, I have about 45 minutes until total meltdown occurs, 10 people to buy presents for, and you are using up precious shopping minutes! I resorted to simply being rude.
Forty-five minutes later we made an emergency exit with a screaming baby, having made no good purchases. It was one thing to feel frustrated at an unsuccessful shopping trip, but another to feel disappointed in myself for the way I behaved. Being rude to women who were enjoying my children did not help me accomplish my tasks. It only put a damper on my day, and possibly the day of others. (But, seriously, maybe next time these women can hold the baby and play with the 3-year-old for a few minutes while I shop?)
The problem with giving at Christmas is all of the obligation involved.
You see, I love the idea of giving. I love the idea of finding just the right object that will bless the people on my list. As fall roles around I typically get excited about something I am giving to my mom, or someone else in the family. But by the time Christmas arrives there is always someone (usually a handful of people, usually male) that I just haven't a clue what to get. This is what I mean by obligation. Suddenly I am not buying because there is something special to give, but instead because I feel the obligation to put something in a pretty package for someone to open. Thus Christmas falls prey to commercialism. It might be why my dad has more than 30 flashlights next to his bed. Though, he does love a good flashlight.
At the heart of Christmas is the spirit of giving, and in itself there is nothing wrong with this. Where I fall short is the way that I give. Going on the mad hunt for presents last minute, spending hours in the mall because it is too late to order online, should not be what Christmas is about. That style of giving actually prevents me from giving in more meaningful ways.
Giving in a meaningful way is sometimes giving a thoughtful gift, but it is also giving a memory... giving an experience... giving a tradition... giving words... giving homemade (though there is no question that this option is NOT a time-saver)... giving food... giving fun... and most often, giving the gift of a me that is present in the moment, not prone to distraction or hurry.
So, my strategy for celebrating Christmas this year with purpose and intention is to minimize the amount of time I obsess over giving just the right gift to someone. And the truth is, as a good friend pointed out, no one gets me the perfect gift either. Why? Because there is no perfect gift! It simply does not exist. And the longer I spend looking for it, the more mediocre, imperfect and generic all of the things around me seem - because they are! Things are just another imperfect way of saying "I thought of you."
While shopping is going to be a small part of my December, it does not need to play a major role. Part of my strategy for giving it a lesser focus is getting all of the necessary shopping out of the way early (like this week) so that the rest of my December can be spent building memories, capturing traditions, and being the giving-hearted Christmas-spirited person that I want to be, saving time to experience Christmas in all the ways that matter most.