Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops on November 27, 2017.
It was on Tuesday evening last week that I deleted (again) all the promotional emails from my inbox; there were a few hundred of them. It is now Saturday afternoon and another load of 234 promotional emails are going to meet the same fate. Many of them have to do with the Black Friday sale, which I choose to stay out of for obvious reasons.
The fact that around 50 or so find their way into my inbox every day is beyond disturbing. I’ve unsubscribed to anything I ever signed up for, unless it’s worth having, and I do not open any invites to shop on a black Friday or any other colour day; I shop when I need to and, as they say, what better way to make the best of a sale then to save 100 percent by not buying anything.
The thing is though, ‘tis the season to be giving and there are things our loved ones need that can be happily gifted come Christmas day. That aside, here’s a thought that is not new or revolutionary in any way, but a humble reminder: set aside time to spend together rather than money to buy gifts.
Last year we had my in-laws over during the Christmas holiday and we made precious memories out of it. I got puzzles from the thrift stores in town prior to, and that meant many hours of afternoon chitchat and laughter while trying to solve them; our oldest son and mom-in-law’s favourite activity. We played cards and other games too, plus we went out for hikes in the woods in deep, wonderful snow.
My mother-in-law built a gingerbread castle with our little guy; some of the otherwise solid foundation became veritable trenches in the end, and the fact that we all remember it fondly is a sign that it was all done right. We will do the same this year, after we trade our puzzles in for ‘new’ used ones, and we get a couple of board and wooden games that everyone no matter the age can be part of.
We will open (minimal and useful) gifts too, and we will delight in the funny, witty rhymes my father-in-law puts together every year for every one of us. Those riddles remind me of my dad, who was always fond of riddles. There is a fascinating little portrait of the person in each gift-attached missive. Part of the delight is deciphering the ‘code’ in each.
Playing games together leads to silly banter and laughing together, and it leads to togetherness not just because we share the space but because we’re present right then and there. No TV, no phones, just time together as it happens.
We get the games out not just at Christmas time though. We play for no reason on any week day when no evening activities steal any of us from our home, and we play when we have family over or when we visit them. Many years from now when the boys will look back and think of what ‘now’ was made of, I want them to remember the playfulness we built our memories on. The silliness of that chat that games often elicit, the times when you are there not to make ‘quality time’ but simply push everything aside to make room for each other and for that togetherness that is more elusive than anything else because time really is a wild creature that minds its own and cannot ever be tamed. Or stopped.
The cynics among us can argue that time flows just the same whether you play with your kids, watch TV or get lost seeking meaning in the countless scribbles of invisible crowds on social media. I’d argue that if we employ pure physics to prove it, the answer is yes, it does. The reflection of it on our minds and, dare I say, soul, is a different story though.
There is no equation to prove that it is healthier for everyone, no matter the age, to spend enough time with their loved ones. There is only that feeling of fullness of the heart when you do. And when you try to measure the size and money value of gifts against the immeasurable goodness of being fully present where your loved ones are fully present, well, there is a discrepancy that points to the evident.
I spent every Christmas at home with my parents until my late twenties. The only gift I remember is a doll I got when I was eight or so. I do remember that my sister and I baked with my mom every year, and I remember the times my dad pulled my sister and I all bundled up in a sled under a million stars shining bright and happy. I remember the snow crunching under his feet, the tone of his voice as he was telling us stories; I would not trade the magic of those nights and the delicious smells of cooking and baking with my mom for all the gifts in the world.
There is no email warning us that one day it all ends; there is no promotional material telling us ‘just spend time with your loved ones while there is time still.’ Giving out of love is good and it makes us smile. But it will never come close to the one thing that can do what nothing else can: spending time together.
Make it so this holiday season. Fill your heart and others’ with joy and laughter rather than your shopping cart with things. It’s the only gift that matters in the end; if you make it so.