December 29, 2022
The week before Christmas is always more chaotic than I expect, even though by now those expectations for chaos are pretty high. Between finishing work projects (and sometimes starting new ones), arranging for travel, and making sure I see everyone I want to see before we all leave town for our respective homes, something is bound to slip through the cracks. For me, it’s usually something I forget to pack—an outfit for a gathering, or the book or tea or massage balls that I planned to use for self-care when things inevitably get tense. That, and the crippling doubt that I didn’t buy enough gifts for all the people I love.
Gift comparison is a real thing, which has been baked into my bones from birth through my mother’s insistence that my sister and I have “even” amounts of Christmas presents—in number of packages and cost. This is well intentioned, and wasn’t so hard when we were little and basically got duplicates of everything. But once our tastes and personalities diverged—my sister toward fashionista maximalism, me toward esoteric minimalism—it was hard for me to come up with enough requests to match hers. In another sense, my general mindfulness of finances and belief that Christmas isn’t the only time to give people gifts, and that all gifts don’t have to come in packages (e.g., experience gifts), brought some tension around the Christmas tree as I found myself feeling guilty for the way that I expressed my love through the gifts I chose. And so, the week before Christmas usually involves some mad rush to Target or a candle store to supplement my imagined inadequacies, meeting an expectation that is not at all my own.
This year, I was proud to not fall into the trap of gift-giving-guilt—I felt very happy with the gifts I gave, their quantity and cost (and most of all the thought that went into them). The more surprising part of this new internal dynamic, though, was the attitude with which I received. Throughout the year, I’ve been working on moving away from the notion that I can control anything about my life in a significant way, adopting the phrase “expect nothing” (thanks, Co-Star Astrology!) as a mantra especially when things start to feel overwhelming. Expecting nothing came in handy this Christmas, since it allowed me to give more fully of myself through gifts and otherwise. I felt less stress about what I imagined the days at home would be, as well as what my days back in the city would be on a pseudo “vacation.” I felt less resistance toward the gifts that people wanted to give me without my asking, and for the gifts of watching people’s experiences around the holiday itself change before my eyes. If a package wrapped in plaid paper with a curly ribbon can bring someone to tears, not for what was inside it but for the fact that it meant someone cared enough to do that for them, then the Christmas spirit is, in my opinion, very much still redeemable in the midst of our capitalist world. If it’s still possible to translate love into gestures and things, we might still have something to hope for.