Extra Pulp: Wrapped in Love

Laura Anders Lee recalls her most memorable Christmas and realizes that less stuff and more good deeds equals joy.

(Illustration by David Vallejo)

My kids have a lot of toys. A lot. As soon as they earn a little money for chores, those dollar bills start burning a hole in their pocket. Families today have more stuff than ever before. It’s all too easy to buy things on Amazon with just a few clicks or run to Walmart whenever someone wants something new or discovers a different hobby.

The first Christmas after moving to Florida, I decided to try out tennis. My husband, Bryan, went out and bought a case of balls, two racquets, a ball hopper, new shoes and clothes. My career as a tennis player lasted only until summer. When my two sons signed up for baseball, they needed cleats, pants, a belt, gloves, bats and balls. For karate, we bought uniforms, pads and mouth guards. To play basketball, they needed special shoes, a junior-size ball and an adjustable goal.

Their rooms are filled with collectible Pokémon cards, LEGOs and Beyblade spinning tops, and our garage contains enough bikes, scooters, skateboards and hoverboards to put in a parade. All over the house are books, DVDs, art supplies, video games, board games, puzzles, superheroes and villains, costumes, die-cast cars, and an artillery of Nerf guns with a million bullets strewn around. It’s just too much.

When they were younger, Bryan and I—along with our relatives—couldn’t wait to celebrate the holidays with them. We spent weeks overzealously choosing gifts for them, but come Christmas Day, they only wanted to play with the empty boxes and wrapping paper. We kept putting more presents in front of them to open, when they simply wanted to keep playing with the first box.

Today, when their grandparents, aunts and uncles ask what they want for Christmas, I say, “They want everything, but they need nothing.”

Yet we still have the urge to buy more stuff. Each year, I get swept up in the holiday shopping with the glittery displays, half-price deals and cheery music that calls the credit card from my wallet like a siren song. Inevitably, pretty wrapping paper and shiny new toys will make their way into my shopping cart along with enough decorations to fill yet another plastic bin in the already crowded garage.

But looking back on Christmases past, my best memories don’t include material things. I remember cutting down our own tree at the farm with my best friend’s family and adopting a child my age from the angel tree. I remember singing “Silent Night” during our candlelight Christmas Eve service, eating sausage casserole on Christmas morning, and skipping traditional lunch that one year and cooking homemade pizzas in our pajamas.

I don’t really recall the gifts I received under the tree except for one in particular. My parents had a tough year financially and really worried what to give my brother and me for Christmas. They built a puppet theater with plywood, my mom painting the comedy and tragedy masks, sewing curtains and crossing her fingers we liked it. The Christmas when Santa brought the least turned out to be my most special.

One of my favorite Christmases with my children was a staycation we took in Orlando a few years ago. Instead of letting them buy more toys with money from their generous—albeit spoiling—grandparents, we reserved a campsite at Disney’s Fort Wilderness.

We pulled out the tent still unused from Easter and set up our campsite. We took advantage of the 82-degree December day, enjoying the pool across the street. After dark, Bryan cooked rib-eyes on our charcoal grill and we walked over to the campfire for s’mores. A Disney cowboy led us in “Rocky Top,” “You Are My Sunshine” and “Home on the Range.” I closed my eyes, time-traveling to my grandmother’s house when we sang the same old-fashioned songs to her guitar. William fell asleep in my arms, and Anders waited up to meet Chip ’n’ Dale.

I don’t know if it was the sugar from the s’mores, the wine in my styrofoam cup or the wholesome family time, but my heart was so filled with joy, I felt giddy. That night, stars filled the sky, and the four of us snuggled comfortably together in our tent. I lay there listening to the distant fireworks and the soft breathing of my children after a fun-filled day. This is the stuff that really matters, I thought.

This year, when my kids add to their wish lists and I’m tempted by a bargain, we will stop to remember what the holidays are all about. We’ll spread kindness with good deeds, experience something new together, and relish time with the ones we love. That’s what memories are made of.

Categories: Community