When Christmas Got Purse-onal

We still remember it as the Great Purse Christmas. 

The story starts with Missy, as so many do. Missy has a love for the season that is both passionate and unfeigned, and my wife Heather and I have learned her enthusiasms well over the years that we’ve cared for her. 

Carols? Play them anytime! 

Lights? Let’s go see them every night! 

The Grinch? Yes, please! 

It makes Christmas Day really fun to watch, especially since Missy’s tastes are pretty simple. New puzzles. Coloring books. Exciting stories for bedtime. Music by the score. 

And, of course, purses. 

It’s less pronounced now, but for many years, Missy’s constant companion was a big red purse, packed with half the universe inside it. Anyone venturing into its depths would unearth flash cards, stuffed animals, crumpled-up comics, a partridge in a pear tree …. as well as a ripped lining and bursting seams from holding so much for so long. 

So one Christmas, Heather and I saw the state of her current handbag and decided that a new red purse would be just the thing for Missy to find under the tree. 

As it happens, we had some company. 

Come the day, Missy got not one … not two … but FOUR red purses under the tree. Each one a different size, style and shade. The hilarity grew as the bags multiplied. 

“You mean you …?” 

“Oh, no!” 

“Wow, Missy ….” 

As communicators, we had failed pretty miserably. But as gift-givers, we had succeeded beyond our wildest dreams. 

Missy was over the moon with joy, wealthy beyond words. And all of us had unwrapped a new story to share and re-share. 

You can’t ask for a better Christmas than that. 

It’s easy to get hyper-focused on the stuff, tempting to see Christmas Day as the here-at-last finish line of a long December march. But the day was always meant to be a beginning, not an end. And the best present has always been the gift of each other, wrapped in stories and memories and love. 

Here at Chez Rochat, it’s rare for a present to be opened without a tale or an explanation from the giver. It might be as simple as “I never thought this would get here in time” or a mighty seasonal epic of desperate searches and sudden discoveries. But with each telling, we strengthen a bond and reinforce a message: “I thought of you. I care. And I want you to know how much you mean to me.”

After all, we’re storytelling creatures. It’s how we make sense of the world, sometimes even how we transform it. Most of all, it’s how we become an “us,” tied together for the moment – or maybe longer – by a common understanding and shared vision.

The story now begins anew, today and every day. Write it well. Share it often. Celebrate it with others and watch it grow as your story joins theirs, making both richer.

Together, we can write a new year worth remembering. One where the real gifts aren’t just tucked away in a dark corner of December, but shared throughout. I’m confident we can do it.

In fact, I think it’s in the bag.

To the Letter

This December, Missy and I have been reading someone else’s mail. And it’s been magical.

“Ok, Missy, are you ready for Father Christmas?”

The eager smile as I opened the book said it all.

Every year, our bedtime reading with Missy takes in at least one holiday classic. We’ve done “The Story of Holly and Ivy,” “How The Grinch Stole Christmas!” and even “A Christmas Carol.” But given how much Missy enjoys magical stories, I’m kind of surprised it took us this look to reach for “Letters From Father Christmas.”

If you’re not familiar with the book, it’s a slim volume by J.R.R. Tolkien. Yes, the Hobbit guy. His children, like many, wrote letters to Father Christmas each year … and in their case, Father Christmas wrote them back. The resulting correspondence from the North Pole (which included hand-drawn pictures) stretched from the 1920s until the early 1940s, when the last of the four young Tolkiens finally grew beyond “stocking age.”

During that period, they could count on getting all the latest news. One year might be the humorous misadventures of what the well-meaning North Polar Bear had broken THIS year. Another might tell of an attempt by goblins to raid the storehouses. And always, whether it was a quick note or a long tale, there’d be the sense of so much going on behind the scenes.

But the collection is also an indirect chronicle of the family itself. Each Father Christmas letter gives a glimpse of the children at the other end: the teddy bear collection, the railroad enthusiasm, the year one child tried sending Father Christmas a telegram in the off-season.  And as they grow, it’s clear that the gifts of love and wonder given by the letters lasted far beyond the holiday.

That’s something worth recapturing now.

I know. By this time of year, most of us are pretty exhausted. And lately, when New Year’s starts to appear on the horizon, we greet it with more resignation than excitement. If Dec. 31 had a motto for the 2020s, it would probably be “Well, thank goodness THAT one’s over.”

But long after candles have been snuffed, trees have come down and lights packed away, we still have the gift of each other. And we have to give it well, whatever the time of year.

We give it to neighbors when we help each other face the challenges of the world, whether it’s a snowstorm, a pandemic, or just a chore that’s too much for one person to do alone.

We give it to friends when we celebrate their joys and ease their trials, even if all we can do is listen and understand.

And yes, we give it to our children when we help them grow with an open heart and a spirit of curiosity and wonder. That, most of all, ensures the gift will continue.

It doesn’t require handwritten letters with a North Pole postmark (though I suppose it never hurts). Even in Tolkien’s day, that was just the gift-wrapping.  It starts with awareness – noticing other people, remembering that they matter, and then treating them that way.

Sounds simple, I know. But when we remember to do it, it has the power of a child receiving Father Christmas’s personal attention: a reminder that they’re seen, they’re important and they’re cared for.

So don’t let that spirit stop at Jan. 1. Keep being the gift.

After all it’s always a good time to be living in the present.

Ho, Ho … WHOA!

By now, I should be used to the wacky and the tacky at Christmastime, from beer-can trees to Kris Kringle toilet seat covers. But nothing in a lifetime of holidays prepared me for The Ugly Sweater.

The best thing I can say about The Ugly Sweater is that it’s one-of-a-kind, because the existence of two on the planet would cause me to despair for the human race. To properly envision it, imagine a sweater created with the budget of Donald Trump and the taste of Liberace on a bender, with just a touch of George Lucas for panache.

A-glitter with nearly 25,000 gaudy crystals, it features Santa Claus flying through space on a unicorn, while garishly red-and-green planets gleam in the background. There’s even a faux diamond necklace around the collar – because, you know, if you’ve gone this far, you might as well do it with class, right? The price tag for this little gem? About $30,000.

Hey, who needs a car, anyway?

Yes, it’s real. You can Google dozens of references in a blink as long as you remember not to eat first. And it’s tempting to be just a little outraged at someone spending thirty grand for a sweater that’s too heavy to even wear comfortably. (Yes, of course it comes with a frame!)  But anytime something like this comes to my attention, I usually calm myself with two thoughts:

1) Anyone who would blow $30,000 on Santa Bling Is Coming to Space probably wasn’t about to spend it on widows and orphans as their second choice, anyway.

2) Unicorn Santa and gewgaws like it make a nice lightning rod for people with much wealth and little judgment, relieving them of their cash before it can do some serious damage. Sort of like taking the keys from the inebriated at New Year’s, only with less need for breath mints.

Besides, while it’s easy to laugh – and I did my share, believe me — it is possible to turn the question around.

What have we done with our time and money that could have been better spent elsewhere?

Reality check: I don’t live like a monk and I’m not about to force anyone else to do the same. We all do fun things, frivolous things, even downright bizarre things with our resources at times, and that’s not a bad thing in and of itself. It’s even part of what makes this world a fun and colorful place to be.

But it’s also never wrong to ask “Have I done all the good I could do?” Maybe we don’t live in golden palaces or have Rudolph the Ruby-Encrusted Reindeer, but many of us have something. Compared to much of the world, we have a lot.

What are we doing with it?

It’s a question that becomes very palpable at this time of year. It’s one that should be more visible at all times.

The writer C.S. Lewis once said that the only safe rule for charity was to give more than we could spare. “If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they were too small,” he wrote. There should be something you would like to do, and can’t, he insisted, because of what you’ve already given.

It can look overwhelming, I agree. But just because we’re not doing everything doesn’t mean we can’t do something.

Is there someone to be helped? A friend, a relative, a stranger not yet met?

Is there a task that needs our skill? A hurt that needs our comfort? A wrong that can be made right, however briefly?

All it takes is a willingness to start. And if each of our littles can equal a lot, that is one dazzling gift, indeed.

Even more dazzling than Santa Claus on a space unicorn.