No sooner had I cleaned up Thanksgiving dinner that it hit me. Sure as the sun would rise, Black Friday would dawn and Cyber Monday would follow.

The holiday shopping could not be delayed any longer. Time to face the crowds, the credit cards, and the capitalist conspiracy to overspend on unnecessary crap.

As a mom, there’s a certain pressure to deliver the perfect Norman Rockwell-like Christmas complete with delicious meals, exquisite decorations, and a lot of perfectly chosen, beautifully wrapped gifts (all while maintaining a job, a house, a marriage, etc).

This is insane.

And it’s getting harder every year. With older children maturing in a culture of instant gratification and super expensive electronics, Christmas is not for the faint-hearted.

If I’m honest, I hate Christmas.

The problem is that you’re forgetting the true meaning of Christmas.

Maybe you’re right. But let’s be real. Christmas has become a mostly secular commercialized break-the-bank event. And you don’t get a choice on whether you want to participate.

It’s everywhere!

Now, now Heather. Take a deep breath.

Okay.

In an effort to be less Grinch-like and to warm my soul with holiday goodwill, I searched my memory of Christmases past, pausing particularly on the gifts that meant the most to me. Ironically, the presents that hold a special place in my heart surely didn’t cost the gift-giver too much money.

Here Are My Top Five Christmas Gifts:

A Gift From My Paternal Grandmother. In my memory, our Christmas tree touched the ceiling. I squinted and the hundreds of tiny white lights blurred into a glowing mass. The presents were wrapped, placed around the floor and piled on the deep windowsills of our old farmhouse. My grandmother was staying with us as she didn’t want to be alone now that my grandfather was gone. On Christmas Eve afternoon, she handed me a small, slim package.

“An early present,” she said. “For church tonight.”

It was a pair of nylons. The grownup kind. I slipped them on my skinny legs and later at midnight mass I felt like a princess, loving the way my dress slid across my silky legs. It was my first baby step into womanhood.

A Gift From My Mother. When I was a teenager, I dreamed of being a high fashion model in New York City. My mom, ever the dream-catcher, arranged a photo shoot with a local photographer. We had a few pictures enlarged for my portfolio and then I forgot about the photo session. christmas-treeChristmas morning I found a heavy small cardboard box with my name on it under the tree. It was filled with comp cards aka a model’s business cards—me—smiling and posing, looking like a real model. My mother’s gift was a statement of belief in me despite the fact that I was only 5’3” and unlikely to grow much taller. Throughout my life, I have relied on her unwavering confidence as a powerful catalyst to follow my passions.

A Gift From My Brother. Before my siblings and our spouses had children and our brood grew too large, we would exchange gifts with each other. This was a time of great anticipation as we drew names from a hat and the girls secretly rigged it so that we picked each other. But one year, it got messed up and my brother pulled my name. He didn’t buy me a stylish cashmere sweater. Or the perfect pair of earrings liked my sister or sister-in-law would have.

Instead he gave me a silver-plated reindeer, two feet tall, with twenty-four candleholders in its antlers. He presented my mother with the matching, brass-plated deer.

We laughed.

To my fashion-lusting eyes, the deer looked like an atrocity.

But every Christmas, I pull out that shiny beast and place it on my kitchen table. As I’ve aged, the deer has become more and more beautiful, holding a place of honor in my home. It represents a time when we were on the cusp of adulthood, when anything was possible, and when my younger brother took the time to find what he thought would be the perfect gift.

A Gift From My Husband. Our first Christmas as a married couple, my husband and I were two young kids, hundreds of miles from home trying to act like adults. My goal was to land my first “real job” after the holidays, but I needed a professional wardrobe. My supportive-you-will-get-the-job husband surreptitiously shopped for and purchased my first “work” blazer.

Liz Claiborne. Black and white checked. Shoulder pads. Brass buttons—very 1980’s.

I wore it to my first job interview and landed the position.

And though that blazer went out of style two decades ago, it still hangs in my closet. It will never be sent to Goodwill for it’s more than a piece of clothing. It’s a symbol of my husband’s faith in me.

The Gifts From My Children. If I hadn’t been a real estate agent or a writer, I might have ended up as an interior designer. I like everything “just so.” The Christmas tree has a theme, the exterior décor is christmas-ballcoordinated—you get the idea. But my favorite holiday decoration is our Memory Tree. It’s filled with the mismatched ornaments my kids made in childcare and later in elementary school. It might not be beautiful to a stranger’s eyes, but to me it’s a work of art. It’s our past. Our life together. And it’s quite a gift.

So, maybe by writing this post I’m teaching myself a lesson. It’s not so much about how much money I spend or how many gifts I give. Rather, the holidays are about marking the passage of another year, remembering that the light will grow longer, and the any gift of value is one that’s given from the heart.

Maybe I don’t hate Christmas.

Still, I better get to the mall.

* * *

Yesterday’s the past, tomorrow’s the future, but today is a gift.

That’s why it’s called the present.

—Bil Keane (American cartoonist)

* * *
In the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, try this quick and healthy Southwestern Three Bean Soup for Sunday dinner (compliments of EatingWell.com). Click Here.

southwestern-three-bean-soup

What’s the best holiday gift you’ve ever received?

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