I have a lot of sympathy for “The 12 Days of Christmas.”
Well, not so much the song itself, unless it’s sung by John Denver and a horde of Muppets. But the guy who keeps sending all this stuff – flocks of birds, hired entertainers, maybe a bit of jewelry – gets an understanding nod of the head for me.
You see, he clearly has no idea what his true love wants for Christmas. But he’s bound and determined to keep trying until he gets it right.
I think most of us would call that “the holidays as usual.”
Even in the age of Amazon, venturing into the holiday season seems to require the strategic acumen of a general, the adaptability of Star Trek’s Borg and the courage of a quarterback facing half a ton of charging linebackers. After a while, the process begins to feel like one of those middle-school math problems: “So if part 2 of your gift is traveling 1000 miles in five days, but part 1 can cover the same distance in four to seven …”
It’s a formula for merry chaos, even when you know each other well. (Witness the year that Heather and I gave each other the same Muppet movie.) And it gets still more challenging when you add kids to the equation.
Heather and I have half-a-dozen nieces and nephews, all but one of whom are older than pre-school but younger than 13. This puts them all firmly in the Danger Zone of gift giving, where safety lies in answering three questions correctly:
- What are they interested in now? (As opposed to last year or maybe even last month.)
- What do they already have?
- What did Grandma and Grandpa already give them before you even saw the list? (Answer: everything.)
A Las Vegas gambler would tremble at those odds.
And yet, we usually navigate the seas pretty well. Part of it comes from a decent memory of what it’s like to be a kid. Still more of it comes from heavy leaning on the Parental Intelligence Agency, reporting out detailed analyses to would-be family Santas since 2010.
But the biggest reason it generally works out is that the best gifts have already been given. Long before Christmas, in fact.
We’ve given sleepovers. And chats. And out-of-state D&D sessions over Zoom. We’ve had the chance to see them learn and grow (sometimes at a distance of hundreds of miles) and for them to know us as more than just names on a package label.
That’s more precious than even five golden rings. After all, the presents you give may come and go (and come again if you didn’t update the Amazon list). But the presence you give lasts.
That’s the love that lights the season. And well beyond.
I hope the 12 Days guy eventually figured that out. I know a lot of my friends and family have. When you’ve given yourself, you’ve given what matters. The packages and presents are just a bonus.
And if those presents include 12 drummers drumming and 11 pipers piping, I sure hope you included some Excedrin, too.