In December of 2001, Anne I were really struggling financially. It had already been a pretty lousy year, as far as work went, and after September 11th, things only got worse. As Christmas got closer, it was clear that we simply couldn't afford to put many things under the tree for our kids, let alone each other.
One night around the second weekend of December that year, Anne and I had a long talk about the impending holidays. We never wanted the holidays to be about stuff, anyway, so we used the opportunity to introduce the concept of "Little Christmas" to our kids. We told them that, contrary to what television told them, it wasn't about shopping and things, as much as it was about spending time with people you love (and music, and spiced cider, and walking through the neighborhood at night to look at all the pretty lights.) Little Christmas began as a financial necessity, but we discovered that putting the emphasis on the holiday "spirit" rather on the holiday "stuff" made us all happier, and we pretty much removed ourselves from the consumerism that bummed out Charlie Brown so much in 1965.
Even though things eventually got better, we crossed a Rubicon that year, and we never went back. Instead of submerging ourselves in Christmas Crap, we got a few gifts for each other, but we always did some sort of cool thing together as a family, like a trip to the Grand Canyon, or a night out with my parents to see a play. The idea was that Christmas Crap usually gets old and dusty, but the memories we created doing something together would 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.
This post From The Vault features a portion of a post I read on this week's Radio Free Burrito, about our 2006 Christmas trip to Julian, in San Diego County, which included a day at the San Diego Wild Animal Park with my brother, his wife, and my parents:
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.