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The Idea of Christmas

0394f99f059c4ff5e6ca9e55e3437dd8Each Christmas, my precious Grandmother always gifted her homemade tortillas. These were unequivocally the best tortillas that I’ve ever had in my life! First off, to know my grandmother was to love her. She always had the biggest smile on her face and her tone with each person she spoke to was so kind, engaging and filled with such an all consuming love. Just hearing her speak as I got older often brought me to tears. I’ve never met another human being as kind and gentle as this woman. She was funny and so incredibly smart and wise beyond measure. Each Christmas, she worked tirelessly to make a big stack of her tortillas for each person in our very large family. They were adorned in red and green Christmas gift bags with our names written in Sharpie on the bag and included was a hand-written Christmas card, for each one of us. I remember my mother leaning over to tell me as a child, “This is the best gift because it was made with so much love.” My grandparents were missionaries and never lived extravagantly, but instead gave of their time and themselves to helping and serving others. When it came to Christmas we never expected a ton of expensive gifts, but instead a thoughtful one which we always got. The tradition of thoughtful gifts continued for us kids as we got older, as each year my Mom would ask what we wanted for our birthdays and even now as adults we ask for the same thing, my mother’s homemade enchiladas. She spends an entire day making them so it is usually a special occasion type of meal, but it’s the love and time that she puts into making that delicious meal, that makes it the best present ever.

the-idea-of-christmasI’ve always loved this time of year as a child because it meant my family was all together, but as an adult I have thoroughly hated what it stood for in our commercialized world. “Spend, Spend, Spend!! PROVE to your loved ones just how much you love them!!” A good portion of the population are working class folks like us, with enough means to get by so long as no catastrophe happens or anyone gets sick in any kind of way. To be inundated with “SPEND MORE MONEY TO SHOW THAT YOU CARE,” from the moment we clean off our Thanksgiving plates to the moment that Christmas Day ends, is enough to make anyone with little means feel less than worthy to the ones that they love.

Luckily, I have a teenage daughter who has seen enough of the struggle to know not to ask for the expensive items and to expect one present and if it’s been a good month, maybe a couple more. My three year old is happy with whatever she gets, so we lucked out on that one too, but it wasn’t always this “easy.” When my teenager was younger, she expected anything her heart desired that year and usually came pretty close. I had a steady and well-paying career in IT, my husband was working as well and we had more than enough while still living well below our means. When I stopped working outside of the home, things took a drastic turn, and my only child at the time had to face a new reality. Money doesn’t grow on trees and even if it had, we do not have a tree in our backyard. Though I would exhaust myself trying to make sure that all of the little things she had mentioned liking or wanting throughout the year, I found and gifted to her – it was never good enough. She wanted the big thing, the gaming system that everyone she knew had, etc. It the-idea-of-christmas_momgot to a point where I began to really hate this “season of giving.” The only ones giving anything were my husband and I, to my daughter and she usually didn’t care for what she got all that much. As the years have passed and she’s grown some, she has started to understand that we give to her and her sister, all of the time. When we take them for ice cream or to the movie, when we have pizza night or buy that little toy they wanted while at the store. All of the trinkets and things that fill their rooms and closets and line their walls were bought or made for them because we wanted to give something to them. That we give of our time to them, and that giving isn’t solely chalked up to monetary means. My teenager now tells me exactly what she wants, and prefaces it by saying that it is very cheap (usually coming in right under $10) and that if she can only have one she will be so happy. Her baby sister, just wants something she doesn’t have already and finds joy in everything including soap with cartoon characters on it! Of course I wouldn’t gift her soap, but she would love it if I did – so that’s comforting. I don’t know what I did right with these kids except just living so pathetically humbly that they can’t help but realize we aren’t anywhere near the level of well off!

I see other children at the stores right now and their poor parents look like they are facing the very possible reality of spending their entire life savings on ridiculously expensive Christmas gifts that their children (if anything like mine) will completely forget about in a few months at the most. Talking aloud amongst each other about all of the kids, friends, family and pets they have to buy gifts for and what they will get for each. In my head all that I can hear is that “cha-ching” cash register sound going off.

I barely remember the days when I could have afforded to buy for everyone in my extended family and then some. I love giving gifts, it is one of my favorite things to do for those in my life – friends, family, it’s all the same – I love to do it. But years ago I had to stop because a one income family does not typically make a wealthy family. I do however, remember the MANY talks we had to have with my then young daughter about why we couldn’t afford a big Christmas and what the holiday was truly about. It’s funny how quickly we can break it all down to the brass tacks of “what this holiday is about,” when we cannot afford to buy like crazy! It always felt like we were fighting an uphill battle because the second she would turn on the tv or walk into a store, the programming and pre-conditioning was there to reinforce that the holiday was about things, things andthe-idea-of-christmas_presents more things. Leaving us constantly having to re-explain it all over again to her. At one point it clicked for her though. Thankfully.

We hear so many people talking about not knowing what to get so and so, feeling like they have to outdo whatever they did last year. Like that will show them any more that they are loved. The jewelry commercials of showing her “how much you care by saying it with diamonds.” Really? Diamonds? I’ll gladly accept a personal card or a hand-written letter! It has sadly become a rat race of a holiday that leaves us missing the entire purpose of it all together. Instead we wind up feeling like we failed if we couldn’t give all that we desired to give.

This year, our family lost our grandmother and though she stopped being able to make her homemade tortillas, years ago it has hit me that there will never be another Christmas with her, like that ever again. My children will never receive that bag of handmade tortillas with a note attached specifically for each one of them. Though it pains and saddens me inside and she will be so greatly missed from us all, I have a special memory of her that will never die. I have the memory of her unwavering selfless love.

norman-rockwell-christmas-homecoming-1948May we all spend this time of the year celebrating the fact that we are together, as a family – no matter how big or small. May we celebrate the appreciation of each other, the new year to come and the fact that we made it in one piece (sort of!) through this current year. May we celebrate our love for one another and the blessings this life has so generously given us. The things we take for-granted — health, happiness, a roof over our heads and food in our bellies. And most importantly, may we celebrate the time, effort and unconditional love that each person in our lives has put into their relationship with us. May we recognize that their time, is their greatest gift!

10 thoughts on “The Idea of Christmas

  1. So sweet… I wasn’t able to get to know grandma like you did but enough to be able to relate to the feeling of love you described. It 80’s sad that parents are struggling…:( it’s so un Christmas like!!

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  2. I remember when we were teenagers Mom had a job at the time and felt so proud to be able to buy us these little birds made to hold one ring. The mouth opened the whole body. It was made of metal painted gold with one little rhinestone eye. Everyone of us kids had memories of Christmas but I think the one that hurts everyone most is just what you said. The commercials of it all. When others hear your story, some will cry. Some because of the hurt they feel for you but some mostly for themselves. Love is really what everyone is looking for Not Things but some just haven’t figured it out yet. This story really puts it into perspective of what Christmas is really about. God’s precious Love for us by giving us his precious son, so that when He sees us He sees Christ. How lucky and blest we already are. We saw Christ LOVE coming through your grandma and now through all of you. All the rest is fluff. Thank you Elizabeth for telling this story. Merry CHRISTmas precious family! Love, Aunt Donna

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  3. Did you know that Grandma gifted me a frog just like the bird you described, when I was a child and I still have it!?! The mouth opens the whole body, it is painted gold with what looks like emeralds on its back and ruby eyes! I have it out and have had it on display for years!

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  4. Wow. Through good times and bad. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16 What greater gift could we give to those who love us and those who don’t? It’s a gift that comes back to rest on us as it did on Mom and us, a Merry Christmas forever………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….etc. etc.

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  5. You brought back a wonderful, wonderful memory. Your grandma would say this isn’t much, and I would say, are you kidding?? This is the one main thing I look forward to at Christmas time! She’d just laugh.

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  6. That’s exactly how I feel!!! Those are the memories that sustain us and keep their memory alive inside of us.

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