‘Tis the season for making lists of all kinds. I’ve always been a “list” type of person and still find joy in crossing things off of my various lists as they are completed. Friends Jay (www.twowomenblogging.blogspot.com) and KJ Dell’Antonia (http://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/12/02/should-kids-write-their-own-holiday-gift-lists/ ) recently shared their thoughts on Christmas lists. Here are a few of my own.
When I was a teenager, my best Christmas gifts didn’t always arrive on Santa’s sleigh. Most years, they came the day after Christmas. That’s when Mitzelfeld’s Department Store on Main Street launched its year end sale. The pile of gifts under the tree grew considerably on December 26th, with the addition of a plaid Garland kilt (an annual tradition through junior high and high school), a coordinating sweater or two, and a pale blue ski jacket in 11th grade. If I got lucky, there might be a pair of button fly hip huggers or tall boots, too, all packed in Mitzelfeld’s signature black and white striped shopping bags.
My bigger Christmas gifts in those days were often a collaboration. The year I wanted stereo components, my mom let me pick out the receiver, turntable (yes, you read that right), and speakers that would fit best in the dorm when I went off to college. It was perfect, even though the gift wasn’t a total surprise. She learned what my priorities were, and we hit it right on the button.
But at 19, I married (yes, you read that right too) into a family whose Christmas shopping was guided – no, dominated– by elaborate Christmas lists. Suddenly, I was expected to make a list of my own without any allowance for my favorite sales or the benefit of advance conversation.
The whole process was like setting up a bridal registry, with careful notations of the item desired, the store at which it was available, and the preferred color and size. The in- laws were big on catalog shopping, and encouraged me to add items from the pages of Eddie Bauer and LL Bean holiday gift guides, including page numbers.
And sure enough, I received some nice items from those lists. A fair isle sweater. A down jacket that got me through college. Camping gear.
In my husband’s family, nobody shopped for much of anything for themselves after Labor Day, so their lists included an odd array of functional items like a spatula, flashlight batteries and even Sears Cling-alon thigh high nylons for my mother-in-law. It struck me as odd that the family flashlights would burn dim, or not at all, so that another gift could be added to the pile under the tree, or that Roger’s mother would scrape her mixing bowls with an inferior spatula for months. My own mom would have simply picked up batteries and a spatula (not to mention the stockings) on the next shopping trip. But in Roger’s family – now mine – the lists took precedence over practicality. So each year around Thanksgiving I headed out to find the “right” Pendleton plaid shirt or Monet butterfly broach or set of burnt orange towels. (Trust me, finding those towels was a challenge in the years that the entire world was bathed in mauve and country blue. But Roger’s mom never changed her color scheme.)
By the time my own children came along, the Christmas list had worked its way into our annual traditions. Creating a list for each child became a part of holiday preparations as Santa and I conspired about what would be under the tree on Christmas morning. I provided grandparents with gift suggestions, sorted according to recipient and approximate cost . Now, this approach did carry a level of functionality. It minimized the chance of duplicate gifts and gave family members an idea of what would work out best as we rolled into a new year. What could the kids share? Were they into art projects or playing dress up or Strawberry Shortcakes? Still, the very best gifts over the years had nothing to do with those lists. We never asked for hand knit sweaters from Aunt Marie, but we kept them all as treasures for the next generation.
Like most children, mine eventually started creating Christmas lists of their own. Mostly, those lists included just the top priorities to be delivered from the North Pole. A Barbie house. The USS Enterprise. American Girl accessories. Nintendo. Today, Mike and I laugh over his favorite Christmas list story from his own children’s early years; his #2 son Matt submitted a letter to Santa asking for only two things: a pair of jeans that nobody had ever worn before, and a picture of Jesus. Needless to say, Matt’s wishes came true that year.
These days I love to go for the surprise when it comes to Christmas giving. In the role of grandma, my shopping isn’t as elaborate as it was in the days of those whispered conversations with Santa, but it covers a lot more people between our flock of grandchildren and grown up kids.
I pay attention all year and notice the remarks (even Facebook posts) that give clues to what gift may be just right. I like to keep track of who likes dark chocolate or Mexican food. Most of the time I know which sports occupy the boys’ time, and what favorite colors the granddaughters are wearing. I keep my eyes open for terrific books, for those “little somethings” that can be tucked into a package and shipped across the country. Once or twice I have even made a gift myself that turned out well enough to actually give.
I am the first to admit that I probably don’t always get it right.
But really? deep down?
I hope that the real gift lies in the paying attention part.