Back in 2001, Anne and I were forced to have a "little Christmas" with our kids. It wasn't by choice, but it ended up being one of the best Christmases, ever. We didn't overwhelm our kids with crap, we didn't drive ourselves crazy in the malls, and we spent our holidays with people we love, played games, ate lots of yummy holiday foods, and generally removed ourselves from the consumerism that bummed out Charlie Brown so much in 1965.
We crossed a Rubicon that year, and we've never gone back. Instead of submerging ourselves in Christmas Crap, we get a few gifts for each other, but our big gift is always some sort of cool thing together as a family. The idea is that Christmas Crap usually gets old and dusty, but the memories we create doing something together will last for the rest of our lives, and that's a better gift to give or receive than anything we could get at the store. Yes, this includes the Wii.
We've been to plays and various festivals, and last year, we went to the Grand Canyon, where we met up with my parents (a surprise for the kids) rode the Grand Canyon Railway from Williams to the South im, and spent two days at the biggest goddamn hole in the world ("Clark! Watch your language!") Sorry. The make that the second biggest.
It was awesome, especially when we all got up when it was still dark and nine degrees out, so we could watch the sun rise over the Grand Canyon. This, by the way, should really be on your list of things-to-do-before-you-die, especially if you live within a few hours' drive of the South rim. There really is nothing quite like it; as the sun climbs higher in the sky, the shadows change, and so does the quality of the light, so different colors in the canyon walls pop out and fade away, and every five minutes or so, you're looking at an entirely different view.
The kids still talk about that trip and how much fun it was, and the joyous memories have lasted (and will endure) well beyond whatever toy or movie or music we would have stuck under the tree that year.
This year, we planned a trip down to Julian, in San Diego county, where we rented a little cottage at a B&B for two nights. On our first night, we wandered around this awesome little gold mining town that is way up in the mountains, ate some of their famous apple pie, and took the kids out to dinner. When we returned to our cottage, we played Settlers of Catan (our new favorite family game, since I finally introduced Anne and the kids to it about three weeks ago) and then we all watched . . . wait for it . . . How The Grinch Stole Christmas.
(The B&B had a huge library of VHS tapes and DVDs to borrow and I saw that they had all the holiday specials I was so upset about missing, so we grabbed The Grinch, Charlie Brown, and Rudolph when we checked in. Merry Christmas to me.)
Man, it was so awesome to sit on the floor, in front of a little wood burning stove, and watch it on VHS and in glorious mono on a tiny television. Talk about reliving childhood memories!
The following morning, we got up really early, ate breakfast with all the other people who were staying in the B&B, and drove down the hill to the San Diego Wild Animal Park, where we met my parents, my brother and his wife, (again, a surprise for the kids, who will probably expect my parents to meet us from now on, wherever we go) and spent the entire day enjoying all of the benefits of an African safari (lions, rhinos, gorillas, nature's majesty) without any of the drawbacks (expensive travel to another continent without the benefit of toothpaste, warlords shooting at you.) My dad, my brother, and I took over 1000 photos while we were there, and mine and my brother's should show up on our flickr streams before the end of the week.
We stayed at the Wild Animal Park until it got dark. On the way out, Nolan came over to me and he said, "I'm really glad we came here today."
"So am I," I said.
"I wasn't all that excited when you told us what we were doing," he said, "but now I'm really glad we did this. I've had a lot of fun today."
"Yeah, your mom and I were a little bummed out that you weren't into doing this when we told you about it," I said, "but we were pretty sure you'd like it once you got here."
"Well, I just wanted to spend the weekend with my friends," he said, "because I'll be gone all next week and I won't get to see them."
"I get that," I said.
"But it was totally worth it to come down here. Thank you."
"I'm really glad you told me that, Nolan," I said.
He smiled, walked over to Anne, and told her the same thing. Then he told my mom.
Nolan is 15, chronologically and in every other sense, and I feel like I'm dealing with something from another planet more often than I'd like these days, so it really meant a lot to me that he made the effort to let the people who pulled the trip together know that he enjoyed it, instead of finding lots of reasons to be sullen and unhappy because . . . well, that's what teenagers do, if I remember correctly.
After dinner that night, we drove back up to Julian, and the rest of my family drove back to their hotel down in the valley. When we got back to the B&B, we put another fire in the stove and watched A Charlie Brown Christmas together. As much as I've loved that special my entire life, this was the first time I watched it and really felt its message about the meaning of Christmas.
We're not religious, and we're not into the consumerism of the holidays, so it would be easy to feel like we're not part of the whole Christmas thing, but as we sat there, basked in television's warm glowing warming glow, and drank hot apple cider together, we were surrounded by the joy of the season.