Tuesday, December 17

Christmas Presents, Past and Future by Janie DeVos


     Every year, my office in my house turns into the storage locker for all of the Christmas presents I’ve purchased.  It’s also ground zero for wrapping them, sending out greeting cards and internet ordering.  This year, as I look into the ever-growing mound of presents in the corner, I shake my head thinking about all the money that is spent to create that mound, and it’s shameful…almost.  Personally speaking, I love presents.  I love everything about them; picking them out, wrapping them, giving them, and, of course, receiving them.  But, I know that not everyone feels that way.  A lot of families draw names from a hat and give just one person in the family a present.  When my sister half-seriously approached me about doing such a thing, I think the look on my face said it all.  But, I don’t think she was too disappointed to be carrying on our usual multi-gift giving practices for each time I talk to her, she’s picked up another “little somethin’”, though she refuses to tell me what it is, and stubbornly refuses to give me any hints.

When we were growing up in Coral Gables (a suburb of Miami), Christmas was always a big deal.  Mama made sure of that, and Daddy happily went along for the ride.  Because Daddy lost his mother from Tuberculosis (Plug: read my book, THE ART OF BREATHING), when he was just ten, he didn’t grow up with the kind of Christmas mothers are usually in charge of putting together.  So, I think my father enjoyed all aspects of a festive Christmas as much as we kids did…all except for the strands of lights he fought to untangle every year.  Lord, he hated doing that!  As he struggled and muttered small obscenities under his breath, the rest of us stood off to the side, laughing under ours. 

Things were simpler then, and items targeting the juvenile market weren’t nearly as expensive as they are today.  One of my favorite Christmas presents was an iggy house (a.ka. troll house), which “Santa” brought.  I bet it didn’t cost $20.00, and yet I loved it to death.  I got an Easy Bake Oven one Christmas, which would bake a cake by the heat of a strong light bulb, while also scorching every hair off of one’s arm when attempting to pull out that cake.  Today that same design would be pulled off the shelves for being far too dangerous, but, I guess kids were just tougher in the ‘60’s, either that or we just didn’t know any better, which is more likely the case.  I remember that my sister got a Chatty Cathy doll from our parents, which I’m quite sure was a tongue-in-cheek gift from them since my sister’s name is Kathy, too, and to this day, she can out-chat any doll on the market.  And, each Christmas, there was always something new for us to wear, but, I can assure you, there was never a pair of hundred-dollar jeans waiting under the tree.  As a matter of fact, Mama bought some of our things with S & H green stamps to help with the hefty costs of the holidays, and I would sit at the kitchen table with her in the weeks leading up to Christmas, licking those hundreds of stamps then carefully filling each page with them in the green stamp booklets.  So, while we were unquestionably spoiled at Christmas, we also knew there was a limit to it, and we watched and learned as our parents used different means to help offset their high spending.  However, all of that changed when my parents became grandparents…

Somehow, money was not an issue when it came to something one of their grandbabies wanted even though S & H green stamps were a thing of the past.  One Christmas, Mama and I searched and searched for one of those darned Teddy Ruxpin bears because my five year-old niece (now thirty eight), wanted one.  But, there wasn’t one to be found, not until, that is, a new shipment arrived at the now-defunct Zayer Department store in our neighborhood.  Mama and I had called around to every store in all of Florida to find one, and when I hit pay dirt at a store right near my house, we excitedly hurried down there to get it before more blood-letting grandparents could snatch them all up.  There, at the checkout counter, I laughed as my green stamp-licking mother plunked down $100.00 for that little toy without batting one of her graying eyelashes.   As I amusedly watched her enthusiasm as she animatedly explained to the cashier that we’d been looking all over creation for that toy, I knew without a shadow of a doubt that my parents would get more joy out of giving their granddaughter that stupid bear than she would get in receiving it.  But, really, isn’t that what Christmas is all about?

My sister and I were on the phone this morning and I reminded her that this is the first year that there isn’t one of the family’s older generation around to celebrate the holidays with.  Our aunt died last May, and she was the last of that oldie-but-goodie generation.  I heard my sister let out a little sigh, just as I had when the thought occurred to me.  However, their legacy lives on in so many ways.

It lives on in the excitement I feel when Christmas rolls around each year.  The proof of that is the fact that I start playing Christmas music in my Jeep starting in October, (with the windows rolled up, of course), and in the fact that I still cry when Santa lands on the Island of Misfit Toys to finally take those poor unwanted toys to new homes, in the old 1960’s classic “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”.  And their legacy is alive and well in tangible ways, too, like in the 50+ year-old ornaments I hung on the tree day before yesterday.  Those are the same ones my sister and I decorated our trees with alongside our parents 50+ years ago.  And, that legacy lives on when it comes to excitedly recruiting one of Santa’s elves to help me get a job done, just as my mother recruited me to help her find good ol' Teddy Ruxpin so long ago.  This year, I enlisted my neighbor to help me get a hold of a meat smoker for my husband that I was having trouble finding.  She prevailed and we giggled like little kids at our success, just as Mama and I did over that bear.  Yes, that oldie-but-goodie generation taught me well.  They taught me how to enjoy Christmas as much and as enthusiastically as children do, no matter how old I get.   That was the greatest present they gave to me in all of my Christmases past, and that is the gift that will continue to make my future Christmases as exciting and joyful as they've always been.

Wishing each of you a holiday season that’s as magical as it was when you sat on Santa’s knee and whispered your most desired wish to him.  (I bet a few of you even asked for an Easy Bake Oven.)  Merry Christmas, everyone, and a healthy and happy New Year, too!


  1. Oh, I love this. I'm not telling how much I paid for one of the Harry Potter books that just happened to release on my granddaughter's birthday. :-)

  2. I knew grandparents could relate!!! That's funny, Liz.