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A Grown-up Holiday Manifesto

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My two sons are grown and long out on their own. Yesterday the younger one texted me:

"Is there anything you and Dad want for Christmas?"

My heart sank a little bit. Sure, gift giving is fun, but how did this artificial extravaganza of exchanging stuff get to be so... required?

We're not a religious family. We're just not. But even if we were, what does an Xbox One have to do with the birth of Jesus? How does an Apple Watch honor the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem?

We enjoy the holidays (Christmas for my husband, Chanukah for me), in our secular way. I love cooking the traditional meals. My husband loves hanging lights on the house. No wait. Correction: He loves having hung lights on the house. The actual process involves continuous blasphemy. And of course it's "not really Christmas" if there isn't a tree in the living room that looks like it vomited up the holiday gift display at the Mall of America. It's all part of the holiday spirit, right?

But it's been a few years since there were any actual -- ahem -- children around (not that I'm hinting or anything). And this year? Frankly, I am not in the mood. Bah. And humbug.

What I want isn't available from Amazon. I checked.

  • To delete the misery of the presidential election
  • To believe we'll have decent healthcare, science-based policy and national parks in the years to come
  • To expect more civil rights and civil discourse and less hate, anger and violence.
  • To believe that the world will become a safer and kinder place
  • To fall asleep at night without a knot in my stomach

I didn't give my son this list. Instead, I hedged by asking if there was anything he wanted. But apparently he's not in the mood either. Neither of them are. I'd been asking both of them this question for some weeks and their wish lists remain graveyards of things they put there years ago to satisfy the demands of the holiday spirit.

But after I thought about it a while, I realized there are some things I want that ARE in their power to gift me. So I wrote a new wish list:

Dear family of mine:

Let's not do holiday gifts. Let's not buy a tree or candles. Let's not buy a thing that can't be consumed on the spot. Come over, spend a week. It doesn't have to be in December. It can be any time. We'll play mahjong and poker and dominoes. We'll eat too much and watch football and all our favorite movies. We can go for walks when it isn't pouring rain or maybe we'll just be lazy slugs and sit by the fire all day in our robes and slippers. Let's watch old movies and stand-up comedy instead of the news. Let's go out for breakfast in twos instead of all four at one table - just you and me - and really talk. Let's drink wine and cider and maybe smoke our (legal in WA) weed. I'll cook up our favorite dishes because I love to cook (and eat) -- not because it's expected. I'll knit you a hat because I like knitting and I only have one head. I have one of Nana's quilts for you and one of Grandad's paintings but nothing bought in a store and nothing will be wrapped. Sorry. Let's take naps and play with the cats. Let's not murder a tree this year.

But because gifts really are important when they're the impulse of generosity and affection or the response to need, I will give you gifts. I will give you gifts of experiences that will become memories we share. I'll also give you gifts of things because when I'm not there, you'll want some touchstones to remind you. Trust me on this.

But presents are not entitlements and they needn't be shackled to arbitrarily chosen points on Earth's orbit. If I learn of something you need and it's in my power to give it to you, I will give it to you right then. And if I happen to see something and think, "Ohhh! That's got you all over it!", that thing will arrive at your doorstep with no explanation or expectation of reciprocation.

And finally, let's take the money and time we would have spent on stuff we don't need and give it to worthy charities and organizations because not everyone is as lucky as we are.

And you know what? That is exactly what we're going to do.

Of course, should a grandchild appear...

A version of this article originally appeared on Essay Club.