When I was a little girl, I had lots of wonderful Christmases. I had Christmas mornings filled with the kind of wonder and excitement that only a child can experience. But this is not a story of a child’s Christmas. This is a story of the best Christmas I ever had as an adult.
In order for you to understand the best Christmas I ever had, you must first hear about the worst Christmas I ever had. It was Christmas day 1965, and the first Christmas I celebrated as a married woman. Alan and I were in college and some of my sisters and their husbands or boyfriends were spending the day at my oldest sister and her husband’s home. The smell of turkey and pine filled the air, and Christmas carols were playing in the background as we sat down to open our gifts.
Mom opened her gift first. Just like always, Dad had somehow gathered together enough money to buy Mom something truly special. Mom’s gift was a bracelet with gold letters separated by pearls that spelled I LOVE YOU. Everyone ooohed and aaahed approvingly as Mom put on her bracelet and Dad beamed with pride.
Then came my oldest sister Cynthia’s turn. Despite the limited budget of a growing family, Seth had purchased my sister the most beautiful beige lace nighty and robe set I had ever seen. It was such a romantic gift. They exchanged tender glances as the nightgown was carefully refolded and put away.
Sharon’s gift was two crisply folded one-hundred-dollar bills placed in a card which read, “To the one I love,” on the outside. That was more money than Alan and I made in three months working at the college library. Everyone in the room let out a squeal at such luxury.
Kay was the next sister to open her gifts. She was going with a couple of different guys at the time, if I remember right. One gave her a gold wristwatch and the other gave her a beautiful Geistex sweater. Geistex sweaters were very expensive and really “in” in 1965.
All of my sisters were so beautiful and I always felt inferior by comparison. It seemed to me that their gifts were befitting them. I dreaded the fact that I was to open my gifts next.
Before I tell you what I received, I have to give you some facts. Alan was raised to believe that Christmas was basically for little children, that gifts weren’t terribly important to adults. In fact, sometime between October and December, Alan’s mom would announce that she had purchased a “so-and-so,” and that this item was her Christmas gift from Alan’s dad. In other words, older members of their family usually exchanged permission to purchase something at a later date. Also, because Alan’s siblings received lavish gifts during the year, another nice present was just not that big of a deal.
I came from a different background. As long as I could remember, I thought of Christmas as a time to splurge. Christmas was when you showed the ones you love that “price was no object.” And it wasn’t just the money; it was an attitude about Christmas. Christmastime was when you showed the other people in your life how much they meant to you. They were so important that you saved up all year to buy them “things they had always wanted,” or presents that “you shouldn’t have.” Christmas was the time you made dreams come true.
As all the eyes in the room turned toward me, I felt a disaster in the making. “Oh, please God,” I prayed to myself, “make the small package something sweet and personal, a necklace or a locket.” As I opened my gifts, a lump formed in my throat. Alan had gotten me a ball point pen and a pair of heavy duty slippers. Tears welled up in my eyes. Wasn’t I more important and more beautiful than a ball point pen and unisex slippers that could be worn by either a man or a woman? Was that all I meant to Alan?
I prayed for a diversion. Maybe the tree would catch on fire (now that I think about it—maybe this prayer was answered years later as another story) or a bomb would hit the garage. I felt so embarrassed that I wanted to die.
That particular Christmas taught me two things: One, never open my presents in front of my beautiful sisters, and two, never look forward to Christmas ever, ever again.
There were many differences in Alan’s and my backgrounds, so it wasn’t surprising that we ended up in marriage counseling years later. It happened to be Christmastime when we started therapy.
Dr. Hoffman started off the session by asking me what problems would arise during the holiday season. That was easy for me to answer: “Disappointment and depression.” So Dr. Hoffman came up with this wonderfully simple idea; make Alan a shopping list.
“What?” I protested. “You mean that it still counts if the gift is requested?”
I believed what I had seen in the movies. Alan was somehow supposed to magically know the deepest desires of my heart. “You mean I could write him out a list and if he gave me an item on the list, it would show that he loved me, even if he hadn’t thought of it himself? Amazing,” I muttered to myself.
“You mean the longing looks as I passed the crystal department and the quiet glances toward the jewelry counter weren’t enough? Are you telling me, Dr. Hoffman, that the man doesn’t know what I want by magic?
“Okay!” I said defiantly, “I’ll make the man a list.”
I will never forget the serious way I approached my list writing. Poised with a hot cup of coffee and a sharp pencil, I proceeded. First, I thought, I should probably put down something he wants also. That way I am more likely to get the gift. I honestly felt that unworthy inside. So a color TV headed up the list, followed by the microwave oven. He’d benefit from that as well. Then I became more daring and I asked for a crystal decanter. No, what the heck, I reckoned, I wrote down, “a Fostoria crystal decanter.”
If this was a test for Alan, I was going to make it a good one. I threw myself into the task with reckless abandon and filled two full pages. I wanted to make sure that there could be no excuse that the stores “were out of it.”
When Dr. Hoffman asked for my list, he questioned me to make sure that the items listed were my most secret desires. I concurred that if I received any one of these items on the list, I would be happy. I thought to myself as I drove home, good Lord, I’d be happy for life.
On December 23rd, I opened the front door to a TV service man. He said, “Where do you want the TV, lady?” My heart jumped as I screamed to the children, “Kids, Daddy bought us a color TV.”
Then, on Christmas Eve, a microwave oven arrived. My heart was pounding as I opened the package. It was just like I’d seen in the movies, wrapped in gold with a big red bow. “Thank you, Dr. Hoffman.” I shouted into the air. He was right. It did feel just as good if you spoke up and let the other person know what you wanted.
On Christmas morning, I was totally content. I eyed the color TV in the living room. It was just the model I wanted. As I happily heated rolls in my new microwave oven, I thought of different ways to tell my sisters about the gifts.
As I wandered back into the living room with a tray of hot chocolate for the kids, I heard these startling, amazing words: “Mom, there are some other presents for you under the tree.”
I thought these were probably some sweet handmade treasures made by our children, Roger and Natalie. But when I sat down, I saw a gift clearly from Bullocks, a high-end department store in Long Beach. I squealed as I opened the Fostoria decanter. My neighbors told me later they could hear me screaming. Next I opened an incredibly beautiful pink nighty with matching robe and “super feminine” slippers from Robinsons (no man would wear those slippers.) What would my sisters say when they saw the crystal sugar and creamer to match the decanter, a real leather handbag with a matching wallet and key holder, and a gold locket with “Love, Alan” engraved on the back? To top it all off, there was a gold watch in a black velvet case. My God, Alan had purchased everything on my list and he’d thrown in the watch for good measure.
I don’t remember what Santa brought the children that year, I’m sorry to say. I was too busy screaming and jumping up and down and crying myself. When I finally calmed down, I looked over at Alan and saw he had tears in his eyes. He was in shock and his face held an expression of sheer amazement.
He choked up as he said, “I never knew it would make you so happy or I would have done it years before.”
I realized several things that Christmas. I realized that I was a worthy person, but that I had to declare that fact myself before others would. Whether I received the gifts or not was not important. What was important was that I had written the list. The list was my declaration of worthiness. Alan’s purchasing the gifts was a confirmation of that declaration. I learned from that declaration that I can’t depend on others to affirm my worthiness. I have to do that myself, and I do it a lot now. In fact, this IBM Selectric typewriter was a gift to myself so that I might write this story.
Alan learned a few things that Christmas too. He learned how much fun it is to find something special for the ones you love. He now looks for things I want and he listens carefully to find out what special secrets are in my heart. Best of all, he learned that he could help me most by encouraging me to fulfill my own dreams for myself. And he does that.
I think back on that Christmas occasionally and I believe Natalie summed it up best when she said that morning, “This is so much fun. Let’s do it again next year.”