Sunday, January 4, 2009

No Crib for a Bed

This has been an unusual Christmastime for me in many ways. At first, I was unusually festive from December 1 onward, managing not to let holiday mayhem make me mental. Avoiding malls out of financial necessity helped a lot. So did learning to only half-hear Delilah's holidays songs on KEZK. The biggest factor though, was keeping the focus on other people. The most fun present unwrapping I did in years was in the office, sorting donations from a local church. I knew every gift would be welcome, even if it wasn't exactly glamorous. "A carton of Similac? AND a baby nasal syringe? Oh Santa, how did you know?."

There is old St. Louis Post-Dispatch cartoon on display in the office where Mary encourages the Magi to donate the gold and spices to NFNF. It's a nice reminder that the first Christmas gifts were for an at-risk infant. My own family, once again seperated from my by 700 miles, has been bearing a lot of similarity to that family this past year. Mold removal and renovations have kept us in exile from our home for a year. In our snug rented apartment, my little brothers don't even have beds, just mattresses on the floor. This year has entailed the same rapid packing, wandering, and doing without that Joseph and Mary had to deal with. We're still waiting for final word that it's safe to return from Egypt.
The holidays were extra difficult as even more construction delays pushed back the long-awaited move-in to January. It was indeed strange to celebrate in a foreign living room without our usual ornaments and decorations, which are mostly in storage. (Mark did "save Christmas" by diving amidst boxes to retrieve the stockings.)

Strangest of all for me was coming to terms with my attitude towards presents. For years now I have realized that I am no longer the wide-eyed wondering child my parents would love to see scampering down the stairs with glee on Christmas morning. Recent years saw me take a very utilitarian approach - this is the most money spent on me all year, so I better get something I really want in return, not useless things you think are cute. Better yet, just send money - how about tens and twenties? It took much arguing (not diplomatically on my part) to convince my mom that I would rather have one pair of ballroom dance shoes than a pile of miscellany. To this day I still am not sure if she was put off more by the price tag or by my mercenary spirit.

This year, however, I didn't really need or want anything other than some GF foodstuffs from Whole Paycheck. As long as I got two weeks at home and maybe some new slacks for work, I was happy. So, I took family unwrapping in stride, not stressing over the total utility and opportunity cost of every item. Some I will get good use out of, like said slacks plus three sweaters and a watch. Others, like the plastic bling from brother 3, were given in love but will likely sit around the rest of the year. It's nice to have some new stuff, but I wasn't heartbroken about having to leave the huge skillet and sewing machine case behind.

I started this VSC year hoping to become less attached to "stuff", and Christmas was a good indicator that it's working to some degree. As long as I am fed, clothed, housed, (and have internet and transportation), life is pretty good. It's the people you meet, places you see, and things you learn that matter. In that spirit, I'd like my final Yuletide observation to come from How the Grinch Stole Christmas, which every WM student knows, and loves to hear read by college presidents disguised as St. Nick.

It came without ribbons! It came without tags! It came without packages, boxes, and bags!
Maybe Christmas, perhaps, doesn't come from a store.
Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.

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