Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas, Presently

So, a Christmas query: when you are alone at Christmas, when do you open your presents?

Now that sounds much more pathetic and lonely than it really is. I have a lovely holiday dinner to attend later in the day.

And I have often been home alone on December 25. For years, our family celebrated Christmas on the 26th or 27th, due to logistics of gathering various family members from around the country to Los Angeles.

But this year, the pater is out of the country for the hols (Feliz Navidad, Dad!), and the sisters are celebrating with their own broods.

So, my munchkin tree sits atop half a dozen or more wrapped gifts, all to me. When do I open them?

My family's rituals are so ingrained that I would never have considered doing so last night. It always astonished me when I learned that other families did their gift exchanging on Christmas Eve. What's left for the Big Day? Our family held to a strict rule of abstinence until Christmas morning. I'm sure countless other families handled things exactly this way: the kids (my sisters and myself) were forbidden to get out of bed until 8 AM, torturous waiting for an avaricious soul like me. I wanted my loot, and I wanted it NOW. A few minutes before 8, as we gathered in the hallway with unbridled anticipation (the waiting was KILLING us!!), the folks would slip into the den to turn on enough lights for the home movie camera to work.

Finally, the three of us were released, and we raced into the den to see what booty Santa had left. There may be one or two items which were too large to be wrapped (my folks were never foolish enough to try to wrap a wagon or a bicycle), but there were always many other gifts wrapped, sitting on the hearth alongside our stockings which were overflowing with smaller goodies. We tore into those presents like jackals stripping clean a corpse.

So, in just a few minutes, everything was done. For the Santa portion, that is. We still had buttloads of gifts under the tree in the living room, but once again, my parents recognized the agonizing joy of delay. We were forced to have breakfast first, before sitting down to see what was under the tree.

Agonizingly, Dad handed out the presents, one at a time, and we all had to sit around and watch other people open their gifts.

I now realize that this methodical approach was designed to hold onto those few precious minutes (or in our case, hours) of gift giving and receiving. Because let's face it, though there may be dinner later in the day, or a trip to visit Uncle Roy and Aunt Beulah, or whatever, once the presents are all unwrapped, Christmas is Done.

So, here I sit, Christmas music on the stereo, a virgin Mary (with salt of course) at my side, my tree twinkling away, and gifts ready to be opened. I have no one to prevent me from doing so, no reason in the world to wait.

Except, of course, one. As soon as I open those presents, Christmas is Over.

...maybe I'll wait a little while longer...