The Pressure of the Perfect Present

December 17, 2017
December 17, 2017 Betsy Voreacos

The Pressure of the Perfect Present

“You hate Christmas?” Danielle with the lavender highlights exclaimed as I was paying for my cut and color at the beauty parlor. “How can you hate Christmas?”

“I’ll tell you how,” I said as I mounted my high horse and launched into my diatribe. The one I’ve repeated for as many years as I’ve been in charge of Christmas.

Christmas, to me, is like the seashore. I love everything about the shore. I love the sea breezes and the salty air. I love riding my bicycle back and forth on nice, flat terrain. I love salt water taffy and caramel corn and pizza on the boardwalk. I love the lazy, hazy days, outdoor showers and unlocked front doors. I love everything about the shore. Except the sand. If the beach were paved in some sort of soft-to-the-toe-touch astro turf or rubber matting or even real grass, I’d plop down in my beach chair and watch the waves for hours on end, like normal people do.

I love everything about Christmas. I love the smell of pine needles and bayberry candles. I love the cheery salutations and the hustle and bustle. I love the little ornaments and baubles that I pull out of the attic every year and the candlelight Christmas Eve service. I love the sappy TV shows and the holiday parties and the house filling up with wayward children and friends. I love everything about Christmas. Except for the presents. If I could take away all the gift-giving, I’d plop down in my Santa seat and welcome the holiday, like normal people do.

“The bottom line is, Danielle, finding all those perfect presents is just too much work.”

The next day I spoke to my sister, Emily, telephonically. We talk a lot at this time of year. Mainly because we like to get each other worked up. She loves the part of Christmas I hate. To her, the more presents the merrier. When we get together with my side of the family the day after Christmas, we sit in a circle until our haunches are sore, going round and round the room opening gift after gift for hours on end. Nothing makes Emily happier than giving and receiving.

Some years I have won the battle, and only because I’m louder than all three of my sisters combined. Over the years, at my suggestion, we have tried the grab bag option, but someone always grabs the wrong bag. We have tried doing a Secret Santa but someone always gets, or is, the Grinch. We’ve tried filling stockings, but someone always gets the one with a hole in the toe. And so, we buy for everyone. And fill stockings, to boot.

It doesn’t help that my kids, who are no longer kids, but because they came forth from my loins, will always be my kids and will; therefore, forever more be albatrosses around my neck at Christmas time, never want anything. I have to beg them for lists that finally show up two days too late to order from Amazon. And my ever-loving, low-maintenance spouse wants nothing more than family togetherness. But, you just can’t put a ribbon around that.

I tell them every year that this is the end. I’m not buying gifts just for the sake of buying gifts. I’ll give them the hundreds of dollars they want in cold, hard cash and call it a day. It’s just too heart-wrenching to try and find the perfect gift that will elicit the perfect joy. And the problem is, I just won’t stop trying.

Sister Emily came up with a psychologically-sound point in our last insides-shaking induced conversation. The holidays will always find our weakest links and weasel their way in. It doesn’t matter if you have the perfect family with the perfect kids complete with the Labrador retriever or if you have a dysfunctional family filled with lecherous, mothball-scented uncles and surly teenagers. It doesn’t matter if you have a Warren Buffet-rivaling bank account or pinch every penny you sneak into your credit union’s Christmas Club. It doesn’t matter if you have a significant other or no other relatives alive. If you drink too much or teetotal your way through dinner.  If you proselytize over politics or have no idea who Robert Mueller is. It doesn’t matter if you crave a table full of friends or want to simply sink into your shell. If you’re a gourmet cook or call for takeout.  It doesn’t matter if you spin the dreidel or sing Away in a Manger. If you let the holidays discover your Achilles’ heel, whether self-imposed, self-perceived or just plain selfish, those holidays are going to do their best to take you down.

I take what my sister says to heart, even when I shouldn’t. And she listens way, way too hard to what comes out of my rapidly-running mouth. But this time, what she said hit home. One person’s angst is another’s joy. And we’re all somewhat in control of our own happiness.

So, as we approach the final countdown to Christmas, I’m going to do my best to heal my multiple heels and follow my ever-loving, low-maintenance spouse’s example.

Instead of fighting it, I’m going to try just putting a ribbon around it.

But before I can fully enjoy it, I just need a few more days to finish up my fussing and fuming about all those perfect presents that have yet to be purchased.

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