A few months ago, sitting around the dinner table with my parents, I proposed an idea to them: “What if we don’t do presents this year?”
“What do you mean not do presents?” I’m pretty sure that for the past 19 years, my mom has enjoyed shopping for gifts for me just as much as I’ve enjoyed opening them on Christmas morning, and my dad has always left the shopping and the wrapping up to her. My family’s Christmas morning tradition is like most family’s Christmas traditions. I would wake up before 9 (which was a miracle in and of itself), wander down the stairs in my flannel PJs, and sit at the bottom of the stairs until my parents came out of their bedroom and we could all enter the living room together. My parents would sit on the sofa and drink their coffee, while I sat on the floor with the dogs and slowly unwrapped my presents, savoring the once-a-year moment.
As I’ve gotten older, the gifts have gotten fewer in number but slightly more expensive. Last year I received a few articles of clothing I really had my eye on, a new pair of Uggs, and a Vera Bradley duffle bag. Now to be honest, I still use these things all the time (probably because they’re the ones I specifically asked for). But there have been many gifts throughout the years that were just never really used. When I was younger, these would be the miscellaneous books and DVDs that my mom saw and thought I would like … but for some reason I never opened. And last year, it was a mini video camera that would seem like the perfect gift for me, but I just didn’t really need it when the camera I already had took perfectly fine video.
The point that I’m getting at with all of this may seem lost, but it’s actually quite simple. As I’ve gotten older, it’s not that my parents don’t know me well enough to know what I like … it’s just that I don’t want these kind of gifts from them anymore.
It’s so easy to bring a child joy with some dolls and games, and that’s why I definitely think the work Loyola does with Presence for Christmas with our community partners is so important this time of year. But as a college sophomore, I’m no longer looking forward to Christmas because of the early morning gift-unwrapping frenzy.
I’m looking forward to the late nights staying up with my family, watching cheesy Christmas movies with hot-chocolate and homemade cookies in hand. I’m looking forward to anxiously awaiting the January premiere of Downton Abbey with my mom, recapping the previous two seasons for weeks leading up to it, and having our casual-turned-deep conversations by the late-night glow of the Christmas tree.
The gifts my parents will give me this Christmas will be their presence, and I will reciprocate with exactly the same. I plan on spending many days of my break with my cell phone turned off, while I am downstairs spending time with my parents … and eating … a lot of eating.
I’m more excited for this Christmas than I have been for any one in the recent past, and I honestly think that’s because I’m looking forward to genuine time with the people I
love … not trying to make myself look forward to fleeting, artificial happiness. After a year and a half at Loyola, I’ve had many lessons in authenticity, and I’ve learned that this is what I strive for in my own relations with family and friends.
As I walk through the Loyola campus at night on these last days of exams, I make an effort to slow down and take in the lightposts, wrapped in evergreens and Christmas lights, the Christmas tree on the quad next to the statue of St. Ignatius, and the overwhelming silent beauty of the school on a cold winter’s night. I’m grateful, as always, for the opportunity to go to school at a place that has surrounded me with people and presented me with opportunities that have taught me what truly matters to me and where I find joy in life.
So yes, my parents and I have agreed to “not do presents” this year, and I am looking forward to returning home to our cozy little house, my mom’s homemade Christmas culinary traditions, and to have a break from cooking and laundry for a while. It only took 19 years, but I realized that to me, the most important part of Christmas, is indubitably my family.