Roxanne Tellier – Christmas Presents
For the last several years, I’ve waxed nostalgic about Christmases past. It is to be expected – I am in the sandwich generation that remembers tales of real candles on real trees, while also remembering the first time my family considered an artificial tree. I can only partially relate to how holidays are spent in these times, in our fractured, fast-paced society which – to quote Oscar Wilde – ‘knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.‘
It’s astonishing to look back at a time before credit cards existed, and when poor to middle-class families had to make do as best they could with what they had on hand, and nothing more.
Growing up as a child of parents who’d lived through and survived the Great Depression, money was a presence as palpable as a couch, and as worried over as a dog frets a bone. My mother would be dreamy eyed as she’d tell me about finding an orange in her Christmas stocking as a child – a Mandarin orange being terribly exotic in those days when oranges were seen but once a year – and perhaps she’d even get a candy cane, if things had gone well that month. Other than that, Christmas was when you received those things that you desperately needed, like sock
There was a pragmatism to my own childhood presents, perhaps not quite as stringent as in my mother’s time, but still exemplified with a goodly amount of .. yes, socks, boots, perhaps a pair of skates, if I’d outgrown last year’s. My sister and I were allowed to ask for just one ‘big’ present each. One year I asked for a doll with hair that could be combed. Mum got Jodi and I matching dolls with long hair that was oddly synthetic – not quite what I’d had in mind.
By the time I had a daughter of my own, I was prepared to turn those parsimonious Christmases on their head. Although I hadn’t much money, since I was not employed, I spent an entire year collecting wool and fabric and other craft items, which I painstakingly transformed into gifts for the family. To this day, I shall be forever grateful that my mother, sister, and husband politely accepted my offerings with such good grace.
As the seventies headed towards the eighties, a kind of commercial madness was setting in. Now everyone had credit cards, everyone wanted to at least appear like they were well-heeled and generous, even though the next 12 months after all that gift giving would be spent servicing credit card debt. No matter! Throwing caution to the winds, consumers made holiday shopping into warfare, where would-be gifts could be torn from the hands of babes, or a fellow shopper cold-cocked, if that was what it took to get that Cabbage Patch Kid for your own child’s Christmas.
The gift of the year .. the gift that was massaged into place and so ld to us as the ONLY thing that would make our child happy .. had to be purchased at any cost, no matter how ridiculous.
And in those years, the seeds of liberation and an easing of divorce laws created a new phenomena – the multi-family family. As parents married, divorced, and re-married, family webs became more and more complicated. Little Johnny or Mary went from having a dad and a mum, to having multiple parents, siblings and grandparents. And of course, every family wanted to lay claim to that most special of days to gather, be it Hanukah, Christmas or Kwanza.
A child of the eighties and nineties might have had as many as six or seven festive dinners, complete with an array of presents meant to woo the child into loving this or that parent or grandparent best. In order to accommodate visits to paternal, maternal, second paternal and second maternal homes, not to mention all the doting grandparents on all sides, the holiday might be celebrated as early as two or three weeks in advance, or a week or two later. The month of December became a free-for-all, with battles being emotionally waged for the dates closest to the actual celebration.
The nauseating commercialism of the season continued unabated into the two thousands, barely touched by the rise and fall of economies. Jobs and homes might be lost, but the sacredness of Black Friday was never in question.
Many of us Baby Boomers have come through a rough transition, often finding ourselves without a loving partner, and perhaps dealing with contentious relationships with our children and grandchildren. Money might well be tight, as we near or enter retirement, and it gets harder and harder to justify enormous expenses ‘for just one day.’
This year, especially, as we try to cope with so much loss and the passing of our heroes, watch aghast at the horrific spectre of public monies being used to persecute the water protectors of #NODAPL, endure Trump’s endless tweeting and insane cabinet appointments, and continue to lose faith in our governments, it becomes difficult, if not impossible to dredge up the spirit of the holidays that we all need, and have always needed, to face a cold world for the next several months.
But we must have hope, and we must inspire our children to have hope, and to have faith that we are stronger together, united, than we are apart. The sharing of a meal with loved ones has never had to be about the biggest turkey or the fanciest desserts; it’s always been about communing with those we care about, sharing our energy, and giving each other strength.
Beggaring ourselves to buy expensive presents that are never received in quite the spirit we hoped, is not how we show our love to others. The true gifts we give to each other are those of support, of listening to what the other is saying, and to responding thoughtfully without concern for more than what is best for the other. And these gifts of love must be all about understanding that not a single one of us is perfect, or without traits that will annoy someone at some point.
Yes, we are being distracted. Yes, the world is a very scary place right now. Yes, those of us sensitive to world issues fear for the lives and souls of the vulnerable.
But we also owe it to ourselves, and to those we love, to find the time to gather together, and share what we have with each other, in a spirit of generosity and community. It’s how human beings have coped with the vagaries of nature since we first crawled out of the primordial ooze, regardless of what deity we worshipped at the time.
My wish for all is that you have that time with loved ones, and that if for some reason you do not have that opportunity this year, that you reach out and accept an invitation to join others who find themselves alone in the holidays. There is strength in community, and we will all need that strength to get through whatever awaits us in 2017.
For myself, I’m going to try and find my Christmas spirit by attending events that celebrate the sights and sounds of the season, be they concerts or fundraisers. There is a child ‘with eyes all a’glow’ in each of us, and we need to find and nourish that child’s heart at this time of year. The joy of ‘getting’ only lasts a short while, but the joy of giving keeps us warm for a very long time.
Roxanne’s column appears here every Sunday
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Roxanne Tellier has been singing since she was 10 months old … no, really. Not like she’s telling anyone else how to live their lives, because she’s not judgmental, and most 10 month olds need a little more time to figure out how to hold a microphone. She has also been a vocalist with many acts, including Tangents, Lady, Performer, Mambo Jimi, and Delta Tango. In 2013 she co-hosted Bob Segarini’s podcast, The Bobcast, and, along with Bobert, will continue to seek out and destroy the people who cancelled ‘Bunheads’.