I adore my family, but my in-laws have a holiday tradition that’s started to grow on me over 7.5 years of marriage. In my family — as I’m guessing is the case in many of yours — we open Christmas gifts in a polite, organized fashion. Each person opens a gift as the rest of the family looks on, making the appropriate remarks about its thoughtfulness. Someone jots down names for the sake of thank-you notes. It’s all very structured and respectful.
But when we have Christmas with my in-laws, things are a bit more chaotic. There is no polite waiting or note taking, everyone just kind of digs into their gifts at once, wrapping paper and ribbon flying haphazardly around the living room. The first year or two, this free-for-all really bothered me. It seemed so uncivilized. But like I said, it's started to grow on me. Maybe there is a place for a messy and … well, childish Christmas.
I think it’s the anonymity of the experience that appeals most to me. Being the center of attention has always made me uncomfortable. I know that sounds odd, considering that I write a very public blog and did theater in high school, but those activities attract attention my own terms. People are gawking at me because I want them to. When it comes to Christmas or my wedding (or pregnancy, come to think of it) people are staring for reasons that are somewhat out of my control. Surely you can see how a gift-opening session where no one is really watching would be appealing? But life is all about facing your fears. So on Sunday, I woke up, put on a nice dress, and went to my baby shower.
And you know what? I loved it. Truly. I’m as shocked as anyone. More than two hours of friends and family staring at me affectionately, touching my stomach, asking questions, watching me politely and methodically open their gifts. It sounds like my worst nightmare, right? Maybe it’s age or impending parenthood or something, but I genuinely enjoyed it.
My best friend, Laura, and her husband worked their butts off making decorations and food and party favors. The theme was children’s books (c’mon, how perfect is that?), so the whole house was done up in pennant streamers featuring with Peter Rabbit and Paddington Bear and Harold (of the eponymous Purple Crayon), interspersed with baby pictures of Cam and me. Everyone brought a favorite children’s book to share with our baby. There was a onesie decorating station for the guests to share their own artistic talents.
And there were many, many guests. So many people who wanted to celebrate with Cam and me. Even though my hands shook a little with stage fright, I was truly touched as Iopened each gift and saw what my friends and family thought our tiny human would enjoy. I was touched that my best friend would take such time and effort to do something so special for us. It was, from start to finish, an event filled with love.
Thinking back, I wonder if maybe that’s the piece of Christmas I’ve never quite gotten the hang of. I wonder if it’s the piece we all forget from time to time as we busy ourselves with shopping and decorating and baking and the like. Regardless of your religious persuasions or lack thereof, regardless of whether you open gifts one-by-one or in a big raucous melee, Christmas is supposed to be about love. Not your own silly hang-ups and social anxieties.
So no matter where you find yourself this holiday season, I hope you have occasion like I had Sunday to get over yourself for a few hours and simply enjoy friends and food and laughter and love.