Most of us who have been raised with Christmas traditions can remember going to bed on Christmas Eve with all of the excitement about what was going to happen the next morning. The coming of Santa Claus with gifts was what we dreamed about that night - expecting that all of our dreams would come true.
I wonder if any of you had the same experience I did the next day when it was all over. As much as I loved the gifts, when all was said and done, there was a disappointment that lingered...and the words "is that all?" seemed somehow selfish in my childhood brain. So I kept it to myself.
As an adult, when I reflect on that, I suspect that it was the first musings I had about the lack of satisfaction that comes with getting the things you think you want. There was an itch that needed scratching and the gifts never seemed to do it for me.
Later on, when we were mostly grown, my mother started a tradition all on her own that resulted in each of us finding a gift under the tree from Santa. We would all open this gift with a lot of anticipation. Mom was a catalogue shopper throughout the year. By Christmas she had found each of us a gift that reflected something funny and/or special about us. For example, there was the year my cousin Mike (who lived with us off and on those years) got a soap-on-a-rope in the form of a microphone to aid in his shower-singing. My mother has always felt some un-ease with my feminism. But one year she got me a t-shirt that said "Women fly when men aren't around" or there was the holiday sweat-shirt that said "Three wise men?...Get serious!" As a family, there was nothing we enjoyed more than those gifts from Santa.
Of all the gifts I've given, the one that seems to have meant the most to the receivers were the ones I gave the year I celebrated Christmas at my house with my brother and his family. They all had big challenges on the horizon in the coming year and so instead of filling stockings I gave each of them a little bag with Guatemalan worry dolls, a stone with one word that I thought would sustain them in the coming year and a short sentence about why I picked that word.
I think about all of that on this Christmas Day as a way of trying to unpack the itch that needed scratching that I felt as a child. Its about something WAY more important than the things we give to each other on a day like today.
My hope for everyone (including myself) is that we all recognize what it is we're really longing for and find at least a touch of that this Christmas.