Last night, Ryan asked me what I want for Christmas, and I refused to tell him. I’m not being cruel; I know he’s creative and thoughtful enough that he’s not relying on my answer to help him decide what to get me (in fact, he said he’s already purchased “two of” my presents, and I’m sure they’re wonderful). I just don’t believe in making a list of things you want and expecting someone else to go buy them for you. The whole thing just seems too selfish.* I have issues with the whole practice of gift giving at Christmas as it is. Which is not to say that I don’t participate in it; I do. It’s also not to say that I don’t enjoy receiving gifts; I’m only human. And I like giving gifts, too. I try to find things that are unique and thoughtful and I truly enjoy giving my friends and family members presents that they will appreciate. But nowadays Christmas is such a commercial holiday, it’s often disheartening.
Every year around this time, I start thinking of what I can do for my young nieces to help them learn the true meaning of Christmas, to help them appreciate what they have and understand how fortunate they are compared to other people. Should I take them to a volunteer at a homeless shelter or a food pantry? Adopt a family who is experiencing a difficult time and can’t afford to buy presents? Have them pick out some livestock from the Heifer International catalog and make a donation in their names to a third-world family in need? Invariably, despite my good intentions, I succumb to the commercial pressure and buy them something they can enjoy unwrapping, only to end up wishing I had done something different. Christmas at my brother’s house is a complete frenzy. The kids tear into presents at lightning speed, barely registering who gave what to whom. In half an hour, it’s all over, a pile of toys already forgotten on the floor. We play games, but there are few real traditions, and it’s all kind of a letdown afterwards. I don’t have kids; I’ve kind of always been the spinster aunt, so I’ve never felt sure of my role in trying to stop the madness or introduce more meaningful activities.
I haven’t decided what to give my nieces this year, but the Heifer International idea is sounding more and more appealing. The last thing I want to do is add another video game or DVD to their collection. I kind of wonder how it will be received if I decide to be the weird aunt who bought a goat for a farmer in Uganda instead of a “proper” Christmas gift. (It’s probably way too late to be worried about that sort of thing though; I’m already the weird aunt: I joined the Peace Corps, I’m still single at 34, and I don’t want kids.) But the girls — the two oldest, at least — are old enough now to understand that there are people in the world whose needs are far greater than their own, and to start thinking about ways to help them. Maybe it’s time to start creating some new traditions.
*The exception to this is wedding gifts. If I ever get married, you’d better believe I am hitting up the registries.