Sometimes I wonder what Christmas is even about any more.
It used to be a magical time.
You’d go out with your family to chop down a tree.
It’d be propped up in the living room and decorated with forgotten objects from a box that had been nearly lost in the basement.
You’d sneak presents under the tree, then wait with giggly anticipation for the recipients to find them and wonder about their contents.
Then you’d wake up one morning and some plump stranger had snuck into your house in the middle of the night and eaten your cookies.
Of course, this stranger has also found hours of spare time to set up some insanely complicated toys at the foot of the tree.
(How did he manage that? There are millions of kids in the world!)
It all changed for me one year back in the 90s. I recall watching grown-ups wrestle over the last Tickle-Me Elmo on the floor of a department store.
There was screaming. There were crude words exchanged. The toy was destroyed in the melee and security was called to separate the combatants.
All the while, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, played over the store’s PA system.
I walked away dispirited.
I’d seen Christmas in a new light, as just the endgame in a fevered season of shopping, with a couple of stat holidays tossed in for good measure.
Nothing’s really changed since then, has it?
Christmas still generally centres around getting stuff, getting stuffed, and stuffing siblings and friends alike with boasts about the haul.
Just look at me now.
I write a column that, in a sense, is about consumerism.
I write about the Tickle-Me-Elmos of our age.
This year, according to Esquire, it’s the iPad.
I fear I may have inspired some of you to arm yourselves with pokers to gouge out the eyes of your foes in a battle to seize the last iPad from the shelves of Wal-Mart.
(Quick heads-up before you do something you’ll regret: Wal-Mart doesn’t even sell them.)
Oh, what a cynic I have become!
Or have I?
Last week I happened upon a letter to Santa my son had written at school.
In carefully-composed sentences he mentions a couple of items that didn’t surprise me.
But the last sentence knocked me over: “It would bring me joy if you give my dad a I phone 4.”
When I read that, I pictured my son with his plastic light sabre at an Apple Store, hacking through the crowds of droid-like shoppers.
With a final burst of the Force, he sends his foes tumbling away and grabs the last iPhone 4 from the shelf.
Then I walk in, dressed like Darth Vader. He kneels before me and lays the iPhone 4 in my hand.
I breath heavily, look down at him, and say: “You have done well, my son. Welcome to the dark side.”
But when I re-read that sentence, it occurred to me: he hasn’t come over yet, his intentions are pure.
He just honestly just wants to make his dad happy. Part of his Christmas happiness will come from fulfilling the happiness of someone he loves.
But a 7-year-old obviously can’t fulfill his dad’s extravagant Christmas wish (jokingly made weeks ago, mind you), so he’s asking Santa to cover his ass.
And it occurred to me that, sure, stuff plays a role in Christmas, but it’s more about the total experience, the total happiness.
I can’t remember a single toy I ever received as a child (well, except that 7-inch Aquaman action figure).
Instead, there are these happy, relaxed events with family and friends that string together over years to form a garland of memories.
The stuff was irrelevant.
Just as the iPhone 4 is irrelevant to my son: he’s just asking for my happiness.
Christmas happens, the loot is icing on the cake.
Like, my son literally vibrates with excitement at the sight of a decorated tree.
He watches the old claymation Christmas specials with enthusiasm (we can’t figure out how Hermey pulls the Abominable Snowman’s teeth out so quickly, though).
He talks about Santa like he’s the greatest hero imaginable, and we’re already getting cookies ready for the old guy (I hope he likes a lot of icing).
These are the things my son will recall. Christmas’ magic is all about the experience.
Whether I get an iPhone 4 for Christmas or not, or he gets everything he asks for, will be soon forgotten.
But just to be safe, next year I’ll have to be more careful about what I ask for, make sure it’s something attainable.
And, more to the point, not a thing at all.
Maybe, “All I want for Christmas is a clean house.”
Yeah, that might just work… I just hope he doesn’t ask Santa to back him up on that one, too.
Originally published in the Yukon News on Friday, December 24, 2010.
On Christmas morning my son found a boxed wine decanter under the tree without any label on it. He handed it to me, since it was clearly not for him.
“Did you get me this?” I asked him.
“No!” He said with emphatic innocence.
“Oh, cool, it’s from Santa. How did he know I wanted this decanter?”
With a sudden look of disgust on his face, my son exclaimed: “That’s not right! I ordered an iPhone!”