Last week Finn V. told a story that was really nothing more than his holiday wish list. By now most of the children have excitedly told me about their trees and stockings. A couple have talked about the “Santa Train” or their plans to go see The Nutcracker. A few are excited about family trips. But, come on, presents rule the day and every kid knows it.
If memory serves, my own excitement about presents didn’t really begin to fade until well into adulthood, but by the time I’d reached 30 the whole thing had gotten stale. My entire extended family at that time were adults. We found ourselves on the track of buying ever more expensive gifts for one another, most of which were either the wrong color, size or brand. It was tradition, however, and we kept doing it without much thought, launching ourselves into the shopping mall fray each December, exhausting ourselves in pursuit of objects for people who no longer needed more objects. For me, at least, it had become more about the hollow act of buying things for my family members than the fulfilling one of giving them a gift, although at the time it was more a nagging feeling than a conscious thought.
It wasn’t until our daughter Josephine was born 13 years ago, that childhood was introduced back into our family’s holiday traditions. It instantly and unexpectedly changed our attitude about gifts. It’s fun to give presents to children. Their excitement is infectious. Their gratitude is genuine. Within a couple seasons our family’s calcified gift-giving tradition had new life. For the past decade the adults no longer shop for one another. We’ve made a pact to only exchange handmade gifts for which we’ve spent no more than $5. My holiday “shopping” is now comprised of a single trip to Top Ten Toys for the kids, then hours spent in the garage or kitchen creating something designed to delight my family members for a day, fully expecting them to either consume them or pitch them before the new year turns old.
I’ve made marble runs, infused oils, woodblock prints, and candle holders from chunks of wood I found on the forest floor, each time learning a skill. I’ve received pot holders, CD’s of musical performances, fancy storage containers, and batches of spiced nuts or cookies, each a gift of time and love. While the children set about testing the limits of their new store-bought acquisitions, I’m always moved by the care and effort the adults have put into their gifts. This is the real gift the children have given their parents and grandparents.
But the mushy feeling doesn’t last because once the presents are unwrapped and we’re sitting there behind our stash, surrounded by wrapping paper and bows, the most important Hobson family Christmas tradition is upon us, one that goes back for at least two generations. It usually falls to my brother Sam or me to get things going, although sometimes it’s Dad. One of us will ball up some paper and bean someone else upside the head. That’s the signal that the annual Hobson family paper fight is on. When we were younger it could turn into a raucous, ornament-breaking affair. Dad spins yarns of even more pitched battles between himself and his four siblings from back in the day of the dreaded foil wrapping paper, which could be formed into a missile "as hard as a rock."
Today’s skirmishes tend to be more of the ambush variety, involving tissue paper, but that’s destined to change, perhaps this year, as all the cousins are now in the sweet-spot age-range of 4-13. Judging by their rowdiness at Thanksgiving, I’m thinking this might well be the year of all out wrapping paper war that won’t end until someone is in tears.
Last year my immediate family switched to an artificial tree, following my parents' lead, for environmental reasons. The myth of Santa is a thing of the past. We never really got into the annual Nutcracker ballet. Our advent calendar hasn’t made an appearance for some time. The only things, in fact, that have remained constant over the years are the Christmas morning trips across the lake to Mom and Dad’s house and that paper fight. I’m ready to add the “new” tradition of handmade gifts to those other two to make it a trinity of essential traditions. That’s enough. Any more would be a chore.