I suppose that people establish holiday traditions based on the customs they have grown up with in their families that soon become intermingled with their partner’s when they start a family together. I can’t say for certain whether it was my mother or father’s side that started this tradition, but in my family growing up, gift-giving holidays were a big deal. Living in a house with two sisters, ours was not a family where toys were handed out all year. There were no occasional rewards for good behavior or “just-because” gifts given during the year. The truth was, other than the worn-in toys and hand-me-downs that sustained us through the year, new toys only ever made their way into our lives on two occasions: birthdays and Christmas. But unlike other kids who got toys randomly during the year or who saved up their allowances to get a prize, we got a half year’s worth of toys at both Christmas and our birthdays.
This made Christmas extra-special for us. Inevitably, we would write our lists to Santa (informed, most likely, by commercials that had played in the last half hour of TV), and not only would we get everything on our lists, we would also get a very welcome handful of toys and games that we hadn’t thought to include. I took to writing my letters to Santa, listing all the new toys I wanted and adding a line item for “any extra surprises that I may like.” On Christmas morning, the tree would be littered with so many presents that you couldn’t even see the floor. This was our tradition, and I loved everything about it – from reminding Santa of the annual surprises, to racing from our bedrooms at the crack of dawn to open our stacks of presents on Christmas morning.
The year after my dad left the house during my parents’ divorce when I was fourteen years old, we were sure that this could not continue. We felt the impact of the loss of my father’s income in the house for certain. My mom, now a single mother with two daughters in high school and one in college, surely could not be expected to carry out the tradition of bombarding us with gifts for the yuletide holiday. We made our lists shorter, no longer the scrolls of games/toys that we would play with for a few days and forget a week after Christmas. It was the dawning age of personal technology and everyone was going mobile. My sisters and I had wanted cell phones that year, but figured it was a pipe dream. The only ones on the block still using a VHS player, we didn’t dare get our hopes up for a DVD player. Not this year, we figured. We didn’t want to put any pressure on her.
On Christmas Eve, we went to bed, grateful to be with each other at the holidays. We could get used to Christmases with just Mom; it felt more peaceful, anyway. To us, that was worth more than the mounds of presents with our names on them, so we snuggled in, satisfied. On Christmas morning, we woke up early and headed down to the tree with lowered expectations. We peered into the room and assessed the scene. The tree seemed to twinkle in the same way it had the years before. We glanced down at its base. The sparkle of the green, red, gold, and silver wrapping paper caught our eyes in the same way it had the years before. We saw the towers of gifts, piled up with little tags made out to my sisters’ and my names, stacked up in the same way it had the years before! We looked at one another, smiled, and took our places in front of the mounds. As we tore into our piles, alternating turns unwrapping, we glimpsed a similar looking package in all of our stacks. We decided to open them at the same time. We held our breath as we pulled back the Scotch tape and colorful wrapping paper. As the package began to become more visible, we knew she’d done it: she had somehow managed to get us each cell phones. We had a million questions, but somehow knew that it was all part of Mom’s magic.
After each of us had unwrapped the presents from our mounds of gifts, my mom pulled out a large box, which she happily announced was a “family present.” This was something new. Because all throughout the year, having two sisters meant that we shared everything, we usually got our own individual presents at Christmas. Who would open this “family present?” We decided to do it all together, Mom included. We tore back the wrapping paper to reveal a brand new DVD player. “But…what? How? How did you manage this? “ we asked her. “I got it on Black Friday. I got a great deal. Seriously, guys, don’t worry about it. It’s about time we get with the century and start watching DVDs.” Black Friday. With the exception of when my sister worked retail and had to go in early on the Friday after Thanksgiving, none of us had ever partaken in any Black Friday shopping. This year was different, and of course it would be. This was the first year that it was just Mom and us. Perhaps Black Friday shopping would be a new tradition for us, and we could get down with that.
As I think back on impressions of my mother at Christmas, I realize that even twelve years later, not much has changed. She still spoils me. Even though the type of presents I ask for are a little different (hello, utilitarian gifts…food processors, bed sheets, and clothes), I still look forward to the gifts from my mom most. And she always manages to throw in some surprises that I might like.
Written by: Jenny Nigro, MoM intern
Photo source: Public domain photo, Wikimedia Commons