Last month, while dining at a local restaurant, a Suffieldian I’ve known for almost 15 years came to our table and asked us how things were going, and I told her things were not perfect. She breathed this huge sigh of relief and revealed to us that things in her life were not perfect either.
A guy I once knew had a Christmas he’d never forget. He was about 25 years old and still at the stage of his life when he spent the holidays with his parents and siblings. On the day of Christmas Eve, his father had a massive heart attack.
They converged on the hospital and waited. If you’ve been through something like that, you know that the Earth stops turning. Outside the hospital, life goes on its merry way; inside, you wait. Thankfully, his dad pulled through. The family came home that night and went to sleep. The next morning, they decided to exchange gifts. But being the holiday procrastinators they were, a lot of the gifts hadn’t been wrapped. No problem. They agreed to distribute the gifts person-to-person straight from the shopping bags.
It wasn’t traditional, but it was perfect.
I always think of that guy when I see so many people push themselves to plan the perfect Christmas. Although some would call it tradition, I’ve observed a slight ratcheting of customs over the years.
There was a time when a lit tree in the window and a wreath on the door was the extent of holiday decorations. Today, you’ve got laser light shows and an inflatable Santa’s workshop in people’s front yards. There was a time when the Friday after Thanksgiving was just a Friday. There was none of the mania to get the perfect gifts at the lowest prices. And, I do recall there was a time when presents, for the most part, actually fit under the tree. Today, mountains of gifts fill the living room and soon will dwarf the tree itself.
I understand why people work so hard to make Christmas special. It’s a day when you feel the warmth of your most treasured relationships and which seems to capture your deepest sentiments in an inextinguishable memory. I’m getting pretty old, but there are some holidays I can drift back to as effortlessly as Scrooge with his Ghost of Christmas Past.
So, when you’re dealing with romantic reminiscences bordering on metaphysical manifestations, of course you want to make every Christmas perfect. And, though I may gripe like a grumpy Grinch, I’m not going to ask you to tone it down. I just want to offer this one observation: For all the effort we put into the holiday — from the Christmas cards to the holiday parties to the turkey and the presents themselves — it’s really just an opportunity every year to show people how much you care about them. The rest is just for show.