A few days before Christmas, our Relief Society president called and asked if she could drop off something for us. I was shocked when she started unloading the back of her SUV, which was filled with food from the Bishop’s Storehouse, diapers, detergent, and wrapped gifts. I protested that surely, this must be a mistake, there are other families who need this more than we did. I was hurt at the thought that others deemed us needy when I felt that we were doing well; we had little income and a tight budget, but we were making it work. It was a very humbling experience.
Years later, when I was helping sisters fill out food orders as a member of our branch Relief Society presidency, I was grateful we’d received that assistance. The first hand experience I had with the receiving that aid helped me serve those families.
But after we’d been given those extra gifts, I avoided telling other people how little we planned to give our kids for Christmas. While we were poor, they always assumed that was out of necessity that we only gave our kids two or three presents, when our motivation was to allow our children to enjoy the gifts they have instead of drowning them in a glut of underappreciated stuff.
Our kids enjoyed their gifts this year. Mostly books, some family games, a few horse figurines and toy cars. We hiked and read and played together during the break and were content.
But our kids have gone back to school now. My oldest told me, in tones of resignation, that every single kid in his class got more for Christmas than he did. I told him I believed it. (He got two books about poisonous plants and a couple of decks of Magic cards.) I asked him if he was happy with what he got before he went back to school. He was.
When he was choosing his gift for his sister, he wanted to get everything for her that he knew she liked. This was a big improvement from the days when getting a gift for someone meant buying what he most wanted to have and then feeling slightly resentful that that the other person got to have it. We had a discussion then about the law of diminishing returns that I revived this week to ease his comparative discontent.
Why do we, as Americans, feel the need to give (and get) so many gifts at Christmastime? Do we believe that if some is good, more is better? Or are we trying to create a world of magical realism, a snow-flocked sparkly refuge from the hardness of our disappointing lives? We collectively tell our children stories we know to be false (Santa Claus) because we want them to believe in Christmas miracles. We attribute feelings of benevolence to the holiday season itself, even as we strip it of astronomical or religious significance. Because we know these stories are hollow, we prop them up with the ornaments and gifts we buy every year. When we return to the simple nativity story, most of the trappings of the season reveal themselves to be unnecessary clutter.
I’m glad the holidays are done and past. I am grateful for the gifts I have received, especially the meals and conversations shared with family and friends. And this year, like every year, I am humbled by how much I have been given. It is more than enough.