I am not really sure why, but I’ve really been in the holiday spirit this year. Probably because it’s been such an absolutely depressing year for our country, chock-full of so much anger and nastiness. Decking the halls and rocking around the Christmas tree have been welcome, delightful distractions.
We put up our tree the weekend after Thanksgiving (which has never happened in our house). I have been listening to Christmas music in my car almost nonstop. (I did turn the dial from “Holly Jolly Christmas” during the Senate election so I could listen to folks ranting on local talk radio about “child molesters” and “baby killers,” which just made me have a “Blue, Blue, Blue Christmas,” but don’t worry, now I’m back to having myself a merry little Christmas.)
We’ve already watched “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Polar Express” and “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” and more are on deck for our “holiday family movie nights” — yes, we are even calling it that because our cup of Christmas cheesiness runneth over. (It must be Velveeta!)
I’ve got plans to cook and bake for days and make treats for the neighbors and cookies for Santa with the kids. I’m telling you, if I barfed right now it would be gumdrops and candy canes. Christmas is just my jam this year.
But there is one Christmas decision I am still a bit conflicted about that has made me feel a bit less Christmassy this year.
Yep, I did it. I finally fully caved to “the list.”
Christmas gift-giving was all about surprises in my family. I can’t tell you how many hours I spent with my Mom and grandmother shopping for everyone in Gayfers and McRae’s, searching for the perfect gifts. I swear I can still smell the bakery in the back of Gayfers.
My mom made sure Santa always left a spectacular display, but she always tried to downplay my chances of getting what I wanted just to build the excitement. “Well, you know, Santa may not be able to get everyone a Cabbage Patch doll this year, so don’t get your hopes up.” But of course, “he” did.
Even my grandfather, who was about the grouchiest man on the planet the other 364 days of the year, got into the spirit. One year he hid my grandmother’s present down in a box of rotten fruit he had wrapped up. After she finally found her real present under black bananas and oranges that could make penicillin, she threw every piece of it at him. Grams had quite the arm!
So, I’ve always enjoyed the mystery of finding out what was under the tree — even if it was someone else’s gift and came with fruit flies.
But when I married my husband, I found they handled Christmas a bit differently in their family. My in-laws, who are very generous holiday gift givers, ask everyone for a list detailing specific items they would like. And they do not venture off of it. I’m sure they didn’t always do it this way. It was probably a product of kids turning into adults who are much harder to buy for. My own family traded getting gifts for everyone to drawing names and finally just getting stuff for the kids only.
And I actually like doing “the list” for my in-laws. They have no idea what a picky 40-something-year-old woman would like, nor even pickier 5- and 8-year-old kids. While it does take away the surprise, it also takes away any chance of disappointment and that tradeoff is definitely worth it. And it kind of makes you feel like a kid making a list for Santa again.
But in the early years I tried to game their system. And paid for the price for it.
I figured if I just put way too many items on their list, I would still get exactly what I wanted, but I knew I wouldn’t get all of it, so it would still be somewhat of a surprise. Win-win!
Sadly, I didn’t share my devious plan with my husband. I didn’t think I needed to because he had given me one of the best, most thoughtful, surprise gifts I have ever gotten the Christmas before we got married. His Christmas gift-giving game was strong. I couldn’t wait to see what all he would get me the next year. Until I did. As I started opening the gifts, I realized they were all things I had put on his parents’ list for me.
I guess he noticed I was perplexed because he asked what was wrong.
“Nothing,” I said. “But this is just stuff I put on your parents’ list.”
“Yeah, I know. You had so many things on there, I just wanted to make sure you got all the stuff you wanted.”
Sweetest man in the world, I know, and I am grateful, but I had put the kind of gifts you want to get from your mother-in-law on that list — kitchen gadgets, china pieces, long matronly nightgowns handcrafted for no sexy time — not the kind of gifts you want from your husband.
Trying not to be a totally spoiled brat, I said, “I, of course, like all of this stuff, it was on my list but I just didn’t know you and I were doing ‘the list’ too. I didn’t get you anything off the list you gave them. I just got you stuff I thought you would like. (You know, like you are supposed to freaking do at Christmas for the ones you love!! Haven’t you seen those horrible, cheesy, mall jewelry store diamond commercials, for Jared’s sake?)” (The words in parentheses may have been unspoken.)
After that year, I made a proclamation we would do “the list” for his parents but he and I would buy surprise gifts for each other.
The first year after this proclamation, I received a new mop bucket from my husband. Seriously. Granted, my current one at the time was literally on its last wheel (very thoughtful!) and it did have a bottle of my favorite champagne in it, so it actually was a good gift. And Frank loves telling everyone he gave me a mop bucket one year and so do I (clearly), so it really has been the gift that keeps on giving, but still it was a mop bucket.
In subsequent years, he has really hit the ball out of the park with great gifts. And so have I for him. But we’ve both had some misses, too.
On a year I found him particularly hard to buy for, I could tell he liked all of the gifts his parents got him better (dang it!) because, well, he was getting exactly what he wanted. And I can’t have that, of course, because obviously Christmas isn’t about celebrating the birth of our Lord and Savior, it’s about me winning this “competition,” which is getting harder and harder.
And things are tougher for him too, because at this point in my life, I know I’m really hard to buy for as well because I don’t really need anything.
These lists really do make more sense. Dang it.
So this year, I proclaimed “no more surprises” and had his mom send me what they weren’t buying him off of his list, and I went to town on their leftovers. How romantic! And I composed two lists, an in-law list for them and a husband list for him. I bet you can’t guess which one the “casserole-warming tote” is on!
Christmas morning will be predictable but satisfying. Those things are not bad, right?
And really, I know we can both agree the two little ones that will be totally surprised and thrilled by what’s under the tree are the best gifts we could ever give each other. Mop buckets and granny gowns are just gravy.
But still, I am not sure I can make it to Christmas without at least getting him one little surprise. I’ve just got too much holiday cheer running through my veins. So we’ll see what happens. …
(And no, Frank, this is not a trap and/or test, I swear. Just stick to the husband list.)
Frank is sitting somewhere reading this and saying, “Yeah, right.”
* * *
Merry Christmas, everybody! May you get everything you ever dreamed of (or all the highly specific things on your list)!
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