As soon as I can figure out what to say, I want to sit down with my family and talk about Christmas gifts. Not the children's lack of gratitude (actually, they are pretty good about showing their appreciation for having their wishes carried out); not my inability to choose appropriately for my wife, which is a perennial joke around our house; not her annual insistence -- unhelpful even if true -- that she doesn't really want anything.
No, what I want to talk about is much harder, since no one else seems to have noticed it. I mean my sense, this year especially, that Christmas is too much involved with dollars.
I won't list the gifts we exchanged at our house. I'll tell you only that they were too elaborate, too numerous and too costly. I'm not poor-mouthing. It isn't that we couldn't afford the things we bought. Even the children paid for their gifts out of their savings from summer jobs and previous Christmas and birthday gifts.
What has bothered me for several years hit me with special force this time: our gift-giving has gotten out of hand, and I don't know what to do about it.
Part of it, of course, is the rampant commercialization of Christmas, a season (it begins around Halloween and ends with the last of the post-holiday sales) that businesses have come to count on to make their year.
A bigger part, though, may be a result of our growing affluence. There was a certain charm about the judicious budget-stretching my parents (and the parents of most of my middle-class peers) undertook to make a decent Christmas for us. In spite of the frequent unvoiced disappointments, it usually came out right. The same degree of budget-stretching by solidly middle-class parents results in excess. In spite of the gratitude, it comes out all wrong.
My childhood Christmases were occasions for inexpensive trinkets, a decent toy or two and the things that we would have had to have in any case: a winter coat, new underwear, book satchels.
My children get these necessities as they are needed, and the trinkets have escalated out of all proportion.
And it gets worse every year. Gone is the children's purchase of lace handkerchiefs, costume jewelry and dusting powder for Mom, or after-shave, socks and gloves for Dad. Gone is the effort at finding some little thing that fits with a hobby, or that could provide some family fun: a difficult jigsaw puzzle or other game, a nice recording or a specially chosen book.
Oh, how I'd love it if my children would give (or appreciate the gift of) a good book. If anybody at my house gets a book these days, it is an extra, on top of all the expensive stuff that seems calculated to prove that we are doing all right.
Nor is it just the recently affluent. A visit to the poorer sections of town will demonstrate that the poor, no less than the middle class, are given over to similar excess. Maybe it's only the really rich who can afford to exchange inexpensive gifts.
Please understand that I am not accusing my family of anything of which I am not also guilty. I spend too much, partly because I don't dare do otherwise, and then curse the merchants when it all goes on sale after Christmas.
But if I'm spending more, I'm enjoying it less. The holiday that used to have some relevance to the birthday of the Savior, that even in its secular moments had its focus on the sights and smells and sounds of Christmas, has given way to costly travesty. It's even getting harder to find Christmas music on the radio.
Has the Christmas of my memory gone the way of family story-reading, teen-age innocence and other ancient virtues? Is it no longer possible to recapture those simpler pleasures? Am I the only one who wants to recapture them?
One day soon, I want to speak with my family about these things. I only hope that somebody will at least understand what I'm talking about.