Last year, my sister posted to Facebook the above picture of our families’ combined Christmas presents under her tree (and all over the family room), and tagged me in it.
In the comments were at least three “wow”s, one “geez,” and one “holy shit.”
I understand the reaction. Even we were sort of like, “Uhhhh, did these things fornicate and multiply?” But still, I couldn’t help feeling a little…judged. I wanted to defend myself. I wanted to explain that those were presents for nine people, and also that many of them were hand-me-down gifts from my sister’s older girls to my little girl that my sister had just wrapped for the fun of it. But all my justifications seemed flimsy, and in the end I felt ashamed of our apparently overboard Christmas gift extravaganza.
This year, I will be much more restrained.
That’s what I told myself this October.
And yet here we are, mid-December, and getting into my closet is like that scene in Entrapment where Catherine Zeta-Jones navigates the web of lasers in a skintight Lycra pantsuit, except considerably less sexy.
I keep going through the kids’ lists and trying to find something that I should return. (I have an Excel spreadsheet. There, now you can really hate me.) But I can’t pick one! I know my kids, and I know they’ll play with and love each doll, each Lego set, each science kit, with every fiber of their beings. And they will be grateful. They are grateful kids.
The other day, I lamented to my husband that I felt guilty for being materialistic. He pointed out that we really aren’t materialistic. The only time of year we “spoil” our kids is at Christmas. We never purchase toys on impulse when out and about, and for birthdays they either get a few gifts or no gifts at all in exchange for a family outing. My husband also pointed out that we’re still teaching and modeling for our kids the true meaning of Christmas: love, charity, gratitude, family. We talk daily about the differences in how people live around the world, how fortunate we are, and why that makes it incumbent upon us to be grateful and to give back. We donate to charity, both monetarily and materially. We make spending time with family and friends a priority. And we do these things all year long, not just at Christmas.
My husband also said that he loves the idea that our kids will have lifelong memories of Christmas morning unwrapping insanity, along with the other, nobler pursuits. And truthfully, I do too. I remember having crazy Christmases growing up, with flying wrapping paper, squeals of glee, and an entire afternoon spent wrestling new dolls out of their twist-ties. I remember the innocent, heart-palpitating bliss of believing a fat man in a red suit magically poofed into our living room (Florida — no fireplaces) and dumped a pile of toys onto the couch. These memories are priceless to me, and yes, they are some of my favorites from childhood.
So why can’t I release this guilt about that pile of toys in my closet?
Well, if I’m being honest, which is to say, if I didn’t think anyone besides us would ever know about that pile of toys, I wouldn’t feel guilty at all. My guilt has nothing to do with my personal feelings about Christmas or materialism, and everything to do with feeling crushed under the weight of other people’s judgment.
Facebook is filled with threads of people commenting about how they only allow their kids three items from their wish lists, or how they’ve sworn off presents altogether. Many condemn parents who buy their kids a lot of toys, saying they ought to be ashamed of themselves, that they’re teaching their kids to be materialistic — or even that they are terrible parents.
But the thing is, it’s really nobody’s business how parents choose to celebrate Christmas, or any other holiday, with their children. It’s certainly nobody’s place to judge someone else’s parenting skills based on a solitary piece of photographic evidence from this one day of the year. My family, and other families who go a little bonkers at Christmastime, are not doing Christmas “wrong.” We simply have a tradition of big Christmases. And there is nothing wrong with that.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have quite a few presents to wrap.