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Reining it In


I’ve been asking co-parents what their plans are about gift-giving this year. There is an unspoken tradition of each child giving each classmate a gift during the last day of school.  But, this year, they already have Secret Santa and the big reveal and exchange will happen on that day.  Hhhmmm. So I asked parents if they were giving a present over and above the Secret Santa one. All said they would.  (I have to say that I wish we had a different name for “Secret Santa”, which I find redundant among other things, but that’s another story.) Somehow, I wish we could all collectively agree not to, even though I am prepared to do the same.

I am part of a group of parents doing conscious Advent inner work.  We came together out of a need to carve out a quiet space where we can renew our understanding and faith in the season.  We go back to Christmases past and see how our traditions today were formed and how we might make them more relevant and alive today. Perhaps because of this weekly endeavor,  I am looking at gift-giving–especially among our children–with a keener eye.  The more I look, the stronger my need to tone it down.

I remember coming to school once to pick up my little boys during this last day before the Christmas break and finding myself in an energy of presents, presents, presents. There was glee everywhere–wrappers everywhere, children already having too much sugar. There was a feeling that something was already over , even though we were still celebrating Advent, or trying to anyway.  The energy was one of excarnation and dissipation–the opposite of what I was striving for at home .  Even then there was a tugging at my heart that told me I was hoping for something different.  Alas this season has always been so full of contradiction that most of us just shake our heads, vow to do better next time, and then get tossed by the waves again the following year.

After what happened in Newton, Connecticut and the pain the whole world is going through over this and other tragedies spanning the globe, I feel I cannot be so lax about things that don’t feel right anymore. I don’t mean that we put on our military boots and impose our will on others, but that we speak and act when we can, if only to put more energy in the pot of authenticity.  If it doesn’t feel right and there is a context to it, say something. Do something. We don’t have to be attached to the results.

I have suggested that we stick to the one gift exchanged on the last day of school and the gathering of friends over a meal.  If they have just the one, there is just more space for quiet appreciation. So much can be lost in plenty. Then, if we really can’t let go of giving more presents, we can postpone the giving of them to the last school gathering of the year, on the 21st. This way, it is also closer to Christmas and the parents are present to collect them and perhaps put them under the tree for later.

There is more to this season than giving and receiving material gifts.  What is a gift anyway? Are we still giving freely from our hearts or are we making, buying, wrapping with a frenzy out of obligation, out of fear that we will disappoint or be rejected?  What is the intention behind the gift? What is the intention behind reining it in? Are both gifts?

I’ve been trying to do my chores and forging ahead, even as my heart and thoughts reach out to Sandy Hook. That such heartbreak happens so close to Christmas jars us awake. No one can sleep through this. We have all been carrying this in our souls and wondering what it means. Well, we should. It’s good to ask questions about everything–all the stuff we’ve been doing without a thought and so carelessly–to consider the substance we provide our children. Let’s go to those scary places and ask where we might do better and just do it.

I’ve been thinking about the parents who lost their children, the gifts they must have already bought and stored. What will they do with them now? I’m thinking about all the presents we have, the Christmas frenzy we sometimes allow in, and I’m thinking there’s too much of that and too little of the intangible that matters much, much more.  How do we bring more of the latter into our spaces? How do we put our foot down against the overwhelming tide of materialism? The answers glare at us. Perhaps we can all feel more if there aren’t too many distractions from the physical/material realm. Perhaps.

There are so many questions and soul sensations over these painful events. I am opening myself to them in gratitude. Let me weep and be cracked open so that I can be strong enough to ask more and do more and be more.

Reining it in can be as much a present as the gifts under the tree.

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