Monday, December 26, 2011

Merry Christmas, 2011; And, ambivalence.

Jeongmin smiled at me for the first time (real smile, not just gas or contentment) on X-mas eve.  I captured it on camera Christmas morning.
This year for Christmas, we had an especially lovely family celebration. My dad's brother, Rob, and his wife and son joined us for the festivities. Plus, of course, I suppose Jeongmin's first Christmas is a big deal (even if he won't remember it, being only three weeks old).  I'm not a sentimental "Oh my god--it's baby's First Christmas!!!" type, but Min Gi is and so is my mother, so I'm glad it was pretty special.  And maybe my son will turn out to be the holiday lover in the family, so it's good I got some pictures of him with the whole tree/present thing.

 Baby J's big gift from Santa--a new jungle playmat.  He loves the mirror and he's starting to be more aware of his environment, so it's the perfect time for him to start playing like this.  Yes, that is a "My First Christmas" baby outfit... a present from a friend who couldn't use it for her baby last year.

At the risk of alienating people and becoming a grossly unpopular Scrooge-like figure, I have to admit that I have a love-hate relationship with Christmas.  Partly, it's that I'm not Christian, so a lot of the religious spirit of the holiday is not a part of my scripting, but we all know that Christmas is as much a cultural holiday in the U.S. as it is a religious one, and it's that part of the celebration that I find myself feeling such ambivalence about.

Giant Monkey attack--nearly eats the baby.

I love the family togetherness, the good feelings, the yummy cookies and other meals, the stories and folklore, the warm wishes from everyone, and even the decorations (especially the ones that come out year after year and have special meaning--Grandma's old ornaments, the ones my siblings and I made in daycare centers when we were little, the woven ones my parents brought back from their years in Ecuador). I missed all that while I was in Korea from 2007-2010 and being "home" for Christmas these last two years has been amazing.

There is only one present in this picture I need or want.

What I don't love is how something so nice can turn so blatantly commercial and become a pressure cooker for gift giving and receiving in which your obligations as both the giver and recipient are immense. I actually heard people I love saying things like "I spent $80 on them--she better wear them!" and wondering aloud if they had spent "enough" money even though the gift they had already picked out was lovely, thoughtful, and appropriate.

I don't get it.  I love giving presents (and who doesn't love getting some thoughtful gifts?), but I often do so throughout the year, as things occur to me.  I don't get the whole holiday=stuff thing and kind of never have.  My first Christmas where I could talk, my parents got me a really nice Fisher Price house and a bunch of other stuff.  I opened the one toy and played with it for like an hour or so.  Mom then asked me to open my other gifts, and I said "No, this is enough for today."  (Of course my parents, who had worked hard in shopping for and arranging gifts for me made me open the rest of them, but this has become family legend.)  My first Christmas where I purchased my own gifts with my own money (in high school), I made donations in each of my family's names to a charity that suited their own personal interests (like the WWF for my sister and a comic book free speech group for my brother).  I usually try to make presents if I can.

But this year, I didn't have time (or in all honesty, the free cash) to shop this year and the cookies I had planned to bake didn't happen because Jeongmin got sick with a minor cold in the days leading up to the holiday, so I did not get presents for people this year. I feel bad about it.  I feel overwhelmed by my too-generous relatives.  I wonder if somehow my dislike of commercialism and failure to wrap something up and put it under the tree disappointed them (even though I got everyone presents when I went on vacation this summer and other events of that nature).

I may be the only person in the whole of America who didn't find the stories of people anonymously paying off Walmart and K-mart layaways heartwarming. Maybe it's because I work all year for an organization that has to tell people (often good, hardworking people) that the rent money relief they so desperately need in order to not become homeless is currently out of funds, but I don't find "donations" so that kids whose parents can't really afford it can have a bunch of cheap, plastic junk to be very charitable. I'd rather make sure we have the cash so they don't become homeless. Or so we can fund a program to help them find a job when they're out of work or quality, affordable daycare so they can keep their jobs.

I don't mean to sound ungrateful.  My mother is the opposite of me and always expresses her love through giving and loves nothing better than holidays.  She decorates up a storm and is wonderful at picking out Christmas gifts that make everyone feel special and loved.  It overwhelms me, but I truly appreciate her generosity.  I just think spending time with people is more important than getting them stuff.  Even when it's stuff they want.  And that what you do throughout the year is a bigger deal than one specific day.
Will I feel differently about making him happy through purchases and toy gifts when he is older?  I don't know.  For now, I just love him and want to spend time with him (and the rest of my family).  That's all I really care about.

Christmas 2011


  1. Just wanted to drop by and wish you and your family all the best for 2012 ^^. I agree Christmas has become too commercialised and dependant on cost rather than thought. This year my family and I decided to stop with the gifts except for those for my nephew (who is 2 in March). For him he gets a small gift but also a contribution to his college fund.
    Looking at that jungle playmat makes me feel all sentimental for when he was that age already!

  2. I totally agree with you, Diana. It don't have the inner conflict, though, because my family shares my philosophy on gift-giving. We bought Sahn a few small things because shiny wrapping paper is fun, but the day was most definitely not about presents. Thanks for sharing baby's first Christmas with us!

  3. I've hardly had to buy any clothes or toys for my now-toddler--I know so many other young families who have been generous with their kids' outgrown things, and that's the way it should be, I think. Though you may feel differently about presents when JM is a little older--I was never present-crazy but it's so rewarding watching them actually play with something new and investigating all its possibilities. But no, baby doesn't need $50 shoes that he will wear a few times and then outgrow! I would much rather be gifted with diapers. It's hard to tell well-meaning relatives that, though.



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