On Christmas Eve, my house did not have multicolored lights strung on its roof. Frosty the Snowman was not plopped on my front yard. There was no pine tree in my living room next to the chimney, or brightly wrapped presents under it. The traditional glass of milk and jar of cookies were not waiting on the kitchen counter for Santa.
In fact, no children stayed up for the arrival of that twinkly-eyed jolly man.This is our ritual. Yes, I admit it – my family just doesn’t have the holiday spirit that most stereotypical American families do. We do not go caroling in preparation; we do not eat a special Christmas dinner; we do not exchange gifts; and perhaps most surprisingly, none of us have ever believed in Santa.
I have always seen “Santa” as who – or what – he really is (to cynics at least): a figment of a child’s imagination, nurtured by doting parents. So, when Christmas season rolls around every year, I have observed others’ feelings towards this fictional man, their anticipation and joy. And although I knew they were being misled, I couldn’t bring myself to disclose the truth – not that they would’ve believed me anyway. Santa was too much of a deity for them to renounce him.
Nevertheless, I was happy. Sure, I felt superior to my fellow students who still believed in a man that lived in the North Pole and flew over cities in a reindeer-drawn cart just to give children gifts on Christmas day. And of course, at times I felt jealous – jealous that I was not able to participate in the same childish dream, I was not able to blissfully believe in the same father figure that they did, to be Americanized, as they were, in such an irrevocably American way.
But in the end, I was glad. I was glad that I did not have to be forcibly yanked out of my happy little bubble, much as one of my classmates in 4th grade was, as her best friend let it slip that she had not believed in Santa for years.
I was glad that I knew that, when I did receive gifts, they were from my parents and that they proved their love for me. And I was glad that I could even be happy at all, that something was going right in our house, even if we did not keep up the holiday spirit in terms of appearances.
And maybe that’s all that Christmas is – appearances. Maybe it is just a way for Americans to extravagantly spend on frivolous “necessities” once a year. Maybe it is just an excuse for adults to act like kids during December. And maybe it is that most families decide that expressing their thanks and love through money and gifts is the way to go.
But for my family and me, love is every day. Love is expressed by spending all that gas to pick up, drop off, and repeat cycle. Love is expressed by conversations and, of course, the occasional argument and make-up during long road trips. Love is expressed every day, every night, every meal, when we congregate at the table to talk about how our days went.
I am not saying anything about the value of Christmas, nor am I persuading families not to practice it. What I am doing, however, is giving a personal evaluation of the annual celebration of Jesus’ birth. My family never needed Christmas to show that we care for each other (is not that what the purpose of all this gift-giving is?). We never have anything special going on come mid-December. What we do have, however, is much more precious.
I do not know if I will celebrate “Christmas” with my own children, but I do know that I will be giving them the best gift that trumps all material worth, one that I was luckily bestowed with: love.
This opinion was written by Angela Wen. The views of this author do not reflect the views of the Temple City Voice or its staff. It will be published in the Temple City Voice on Wednesday, January 7, 2009.