Christmas was a magical time for me as a child. My mother went all out, dividing our living room into three equal pie wedges out from the tree. Every inch of floor space would be filled with toys. She didn’t wrap anything, so upon first waking and walking out into the front room, young eyes dazzled with riches. It was amazing!
Looking through pictures I saw that one year I received a Chatty Cathy doll, a tiny kitchen set with a kid-sized table and chairs, and about a hundred other gifts, all setting me up to become the perfect little wife and mom I already wanted to be. Way over the top. Those Christmases were what first made me believe that anything was possible. Any wonderful thing that happened was real. I could believe in it and would not be disappointed.
Since then, I have learned that sometimes wonderful things are snatched away almost before I sink in that they have really happened to me. The boyfriend who asked me to go on an exotic vacation with him … I was amazed. But I believed him. Of course I did. I knew awesome things came true. “Really?” I asked, eyes shining. I was already trying to figure out how to get time off work. “Just kidding!” he said, shocking me. Who would joke about a thing like that?
That’s just one example of how my early Christmas experiences did not prepare me for what kinds of things happen in the real world. Betrayals. Broken promises. Broken hearts. Not that the vacation thing broke my heart. I just learned that guy was not to be trusted. He was a tease. He had a little bit of a cruel streak. After all, he knew my situation. I had almost nothing and almost nobody and I worked ungodly hours for slave wages. Yet he dangled his fancy trip then snatched it away.
He went without me and brought back a cheap souvenir. Clueless. By this time, though, I was used to being disappointed. I had even begun to expect it. Maybe I thought I deserved it. I did eventually learn that I had to make my own happiness. There was no Santa to make the magic happen. Hard work, planning, and yes, affirming that anything is possible, those are the things that I believe in now. And I no longer am dazzled by trips or toys.
What I really would love for Christmas is to see true equality in this country and in the world. I’d like for every child to be fed. I’d like to help pay for that, and for health care, too. I’d love to see good happen in this world and I’d like to contribute to it, with money and sweat equity. My husband has other ideas. He believes, like so many people, that we should not give our money to poor people, because we might need it when we are 97 or 98. Also, he worked hard for that money, and so why should he give it to strangers?
Growing up, my husband had a very different kind of Christmas. His family was large and money was limited. Traditions were much different than those at my house. From the stories he tells, and the kinds of traditions he tried to carry into our marriage, I sense that there was no abundance. No magic. No wonder at the miracle of everything you ever wanted laid out in a profuse pattern of joy. I’m not saying my Christmas was good and his was bad. Mine was unreal and his was too real.
And maybe that’s what makes us so different when it comes to giving and to sharing. I am all about spreading the wealth, the joy, the happiness, the food, the health, the warmth. He is more about “What is the budget this year and will you stick to it for once?” Yet, I understand why. When you grow up believing in goodness and material abundance, it doesn’t leave you, not even after you figure out that the world doesn’t operate that way, not really.
And when you grow up knowing the only person you can depend on yourself, you kind of expect everybody else to toe that line. So what we have here is a marriage between a dreamer and a realist.I like to think we balance each other out. And despite all evidence to the contrary, I still believe in miracles.