The Most Wonderful Time of the Year4:15 PM
It was a several Christmases ago, when I was perhaps nine or ten. All Bergmanns under the age of thirteen had piled into one room to never fall asleep until the wee hours of the morning. The older ones whispered periodically, "I think I hear Santa Claus! There, on the roof!" -- just to tease the childlike belief of the littler ones who got wide-eyed about our uncanny consciousness of Santa's rooftop presence. We woke up about an hour before the parent-appointed waking hour, dying of impatience. As soon as the red digits on the Cinderella alarm clock flashed 7 am, a hoard of robed Bergmann children tiptoed loudly past the parents' room, hissing that no child get left behind. This was serious business. We descended upon the stockings until the immediate excitement wore away. Thus started the debate on whether or not to petition Mom and Dad for an earlier present-opening. The other more likely option was that Mom would insist on making us eat breakfast and Dad would need to take a shower and the morning would stretch unbearably long.
In the meantime, I joined my siblings in examining the pile underneath the Christmas tree. There was one giant present, of course, and of course, it was not mine (a bitter disappointment, since there went my once in a lifetime chance of getting the entire Kailey American Girl doll collection). Other normal-sized presents lay piled up around it, poked at by excited siblings calling out names: "This is Christian's. Hannah. This one's Sarah's? THIS ONE'S MINE." Poke, baited breath, excruciating self-control. The recipient of the huge gift went around in humble bewilderment at his good fortune, especially nice to us lesser peons.
I stared dumbfounded at the few tiny boxes bearing my sorry name. They were the size of teenage girl boxes. They were dead giveaways of charm bracelets, watches, big girl stuff I could not possibly imagine ever wanting. Nothing I wanted at age ten could fit in those sorts of boxes. My Christmas joy shattered beneath the weight of hope deferred.
Being the girl I was, always outspoken about life's various injustices, I complained to my mother as she got herself ready in the bathroom. Bitterness welled up inside me. What could be in those boxes? How could all the sleeplessness of last night pan out to nothing? Forget the fact that I was fighting back hot, hurt tears over my misfortune of getting unwanted gifts to the mother who painstakingly picked them out for me. This was no time for niceness.
She, infinitely tolerant of her fiery ingrate of a daughter, explained over and over again that perhaps there was something extra special in them that I hadn't imagined. Please, Mother. As if mothers knew better than ten-year-old daughters about the sacred materialistic ritual of Christmas presents. (I keep forgetting to ask her if that situation went down in her private history as one of The Worst Moments of Motherhood.)
As younger sibling after younger sibling tore open his gift, I waited with dread for my moment of shame to unwrap my paltry pile of tiny presents. The moment came. I opened the smallest gift first. An American Girl outfit to fuel my American Girl obsession. The next one -- doll boots to compliment that outfit. The next -- Coconut, the faithful pooch of my dolls for several years to come. I'd never received such glorious gifts before. And to think -- they came in such small package! What a surprise! What a delightful humiliation!
I'm thinking of this today, the day of Christmas Eve, not because I find particular delight in knowing I was a selfish brat for the majority of my youth, but because I realize I have a different manifestation of the same ten-year-old problem. At nineteen, I care not for gifts. Gifts aren't my thing, either giving them or getting them. (I'd rather someone ship my boyfriend to me for the day, to be honest.) I'm boringly practical: I don't need any more possessions, I can't even bring them along with me to school, anyway, so why give them to me? (Of course, I will never turn down an article of clothing. I just don't pine for it, understand.)
Ever since I lost interest in gifts (being too old to get adorable toy hamsters or doll clothes or Sing-A-Ma-Jigs or anything fascinating), I lost excitement in Christmas. Tomorrow's Christmas; it's practically here; but I spent the day studying baptism. Christmasy, eh?
I guess I never grasped the real excitement of Christmas -- not to the point where it grabs my heart and leaves me as breathless as those mornings years ago as we rattled down the stairs to open stockings. Oh, the Christmas season, yes -- I enjoyed belting out Christmas carols with my girls, frosting cut-out cookies, giggling at my angel-winged baby sister in the church pageant, wishing "Merry Christmas" to strangers, pondering the Incarnation in prayer. But Christmas day itself -- what is the excitement for that day, when Santa Claus, stockings, and presents no longer send me over the moon? Family? Quiet adoration of Jesus? Thankfulness?
Maybe all of the above?