The Greatest Gift
(A Nunchuck-Free Noel)
We have developed a tradition in our house at Christmas. Every year the kids ask for a Wii, and every year they don't get one. And yet, miraculously, Christmas Day comes and goes with no disappointment. I have had weak moments, like the year when the Fed eX truck arrived Christmas Eve with the present from Gramps. I so hoped for an end to the infernal begging that I secretly weighed the wrapped present, then cross-checked the info on Amazon. The package was exactly the shipping weight of a Wii, so I smugly looked forward to the imminent end of our stand-off. But there was no such resolution in the box. The next morning I was, pathetically, momentarily disappointed. Meanwhile the kids were delightedly engaged in some nonelectronic offering that weighed exactly 7.5 lbs.
That happened to be the year my oldest son graduated from hand- me-down and ski swap ski boots. He was overjoyed and even somewhat surprised to discover the exact pair of bright blue Lange's he had tried on a month earlier, and had fantasized about every time since when he'd crammed his feet into too-small boots. I felt a little bad about the pain, but he got over it. Likewise, I had a few pangs of guilt when my youngest son started his season like every other, in his brother's outgrown battered helmet. But when he unwrapped his first very own helmet, a sparkling blue and silver masterpiece with matching goggles, the suffering was forgotten.
The only torture that year was my own, in worrying about getting practical things they needed rather than something “special” (that every other kid has.) I was caught up in classic parental arms race for the “G.I. Joe-with-the-kung-fu-grip” of the moment. We do this despite our own long, shameful lists of obscenely expensive gifts that gather dust. My theory is that the all time best presents have two things in common: First, they are much needed (need being a relative term); And second, they inspire us to get outside, rather than stay inside.
Sometimes, they do all that for a couple of bucks. One Christmas a friend from Idaho gave our family a bag of huge potatoes as a joke. That year the power went out in a raging Tahoe snowstorm Christmas Eve. Those potatoes, cooked in the fire around which we huddled, tasted as good as any feast. Afterwards, the storm suddenly cleared. My brother and I, powered by potatoes and enforced togetherness, took our sleds into the night and raced down snow-packed roads illuminated solely by a booming full moon.
The theory proved itself again the year I coveted a green puffy down jacket in our local sports shop. Every day that frigid December I went into the store to pet it, and try it on, until one day the saleswoman gently informed me a man had bought it for his daughter. I was devastated, and still cold, but now on the inside too. My parents undoubtedly sensed my disappointment, but they kept silent. When I finally opened my big present on Christmas Day, it was as if I'd rediscovered a long lost best friend.
But the best part was yet to come, because we then embarked on my family's only true Christmas tradition. After the last box was opened Dad herded us to the mountain. “The best skiing of the year is on Christmas Day,” he'd remind us. “Nobody gets out there early.” We didn't spend all day cooking (if God had wanted us to cook on Christmas Day he wouldn't have invented Pot Pies). Instead we abandoned the glee debris in the living room and hit the slopes, green coat and all, to enjoy the white of Christmas together. It took me a bunch of years, a couple of kids, and a little holding out to really understand it, but that's the only “we” that anyone needs.