That year, Christmas was just another task on my to-do list. No magical feelings of the season took hold; no yuletide cheer; no gleeful joy; no warmth of goodwill; no sense of spirit. It was just more stuff to do. But, it was that Christmas that changed my thinking.
Come back with me a few decades. Somewhere between moving from California to Pennsylvania, starting a new job, buying a house, and juggling childcare logistics in a state where we knew no one, I was neck-deep in life-overload as Christmas approached.
But, I was determined to make it a special one for our family of three since it was our first Christmas away from our families. I used sleep-time to write personalized cards heralding our address change, decorated the house before work, insisted on baking cookies at night, and agonized over the perfect gifts to be bought, wrapped, and mailed to California relatives. As the day approached, my exhaustion took hold, but my festive enthusiasm didn’t.
I was convinced it would all be worthwhile watching our son’s delight opening presents. My husband tried to calm my growing to-do list with common sense which I chose to overlook. I went overboard decorating a house still void of furniture and hunting endlessly for the season’s must-have toys for our only child. Instead of a handful of gifts he had dozens. I visualized how thrilled he’d be with each, convincing myself it was only his delight I sought.
Christmas morning arrived and delight from him was not what I got. Instead of a joyful day basking in a child’s glee, we got an out of control one. I was deflated when he wasn’t interested in his new toys. It turned out, he wasn’t interested in Christmas at all. He acted like we felt — unsettled from so many changes in such a short time.
Since we’d moved I’d been whisking him to and from nursery school, less patient with three-year-old wonderment and antics than usual. Time was the commodity I didn’t have to give him, so I was making up for it with special gifts; trying to ease my guilt and out of control feelings in the process. In hindsight, those presents were meant to calm and soothe me.
What I learned that Christmas was our son didn’t want anything from a store; he could care less about the latest toys; he wanted me. He wanted my time. I came to understand, in the scheme of things, that’s what most of us want. We want to know that we matter enough to someone that they will invest the most important currency they have — the currency of their life — to be there, in the deepest sense, with us; they will give us the gift of their time.
My young son helped me to realize the gift most of us need and want, on Christmas day and every day, can’t be found in a box. How do you show love if not by giving your time? I’m reminded of the words of philosopher Simone Weil, “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” After all, how we spend our time is a reflection of who and what we value. My wish this Christmas is a simple one: may we consciously give gifts of time to touch more lives and share more love throughout the year.