A humongous box of firecrackers? A kitten in a basket? Those gifts may be unusual, but they are nothing like the very unusual Christmas gift I received from my parents. My parents’ very unusual Christmas gift was something that can’t be packaged and tied up with a string. They gave it not only to me but to my siblings as well. It was not something that we touched, but something we experienced. The very unusual gift that my parents gave was that of a slow Christmas.
Just what is that?
I’m glad you asked. A slow Christmas is the opposite of a chaotic Christmas. For most people the holidays are hectic. A frenzied rush of trying to get everything done. This frantic mode seems to permeate everything we do from shopping for presents, to decorating the house, to cooking holiday treats, and opening gifts. The hustle and bustle of getting ready for Christmas can easily cause us to miss the true importance of the holiday. My parents’ slow Christmas helped us to have a deeper appreciation of this special day.
Here’s what it was like:
I can still see it. The sheet that my parents hung in the opening to the living room to hide where the tree and presents were. It was Christmas morning and Christmas Mass came first. It was hard, knowing that all our gifts were right there ready to be opened and played with, but we were not allowed to go in and look. The slow Christmas had begun.
After Mass, my parents knelt and said extra prayers as they always did after Mass. I knelt too, trying to pray, but my mind kept wondering what was behind that sheet. If I prayed, it was probably that my parents would hurry up and finish their prayers.
The family had to be fed when we got home, so mom warmed up her cherry nut bread and wassail. We sat down together, said grace, ate breakfast and cleaned up. Then we were finally allowed to go behind the sheet to the tree full of presents. The lucky thing about being the youngest…I got to in go first! We did not all rush in at once. You see, my parents only let us in one at a time. It didn’t make much sense to me back then, but now I know they wanted to see the joy of each individual child’s face as they came in.
The best part!
First came the gifts from Santa, which were not wrapped. After we spent time oohing and aahing and playing with our Santa gifts, it was time to open the wrapped presents. This was the pinnacle of our slow Christmas.
First, we all had to be there. If someone had stepped out to go to the bathroom or get another mug of wassail, my parents waited till they got back. Nothing could be opened until all eight of us were there.
My dad would slowly get one package from under the tree, read the tag silently to himself, then make eye contact with the person who it was for, and drawl out the words, “to Sharon from Mark,” or whoever it was to and from.
After carefully handing the present to the person, everyone gave their full attention to the family member opening the present. We all got to experience the delight of the person opening their gift. If you were the person who had purchased the gift, it was extra special watching them open and enjoy what you had lovingly picked out for them. We did not rush right away to another gift. Time was given to enjoy the gift and of course to thank the person who gave it to you.
When it felt right, my dad would leisurely get another gift and repeat the process. One. Gift. At. A. Time. This, of course, took a while to open all the gifts under the tree but savoring the moment and being fully present during each opening was actually a gift in itself. We obviously grew in the virtue of patience, and we also learned that it is truly better to give than receive.
As a child, I took all of this for granted. A slow Christmas was the only type of Christmas I had experienced. But as an adult, I came to see that other families did things differently.
I remember the first Christmas I spent away from home. As I watched this family open gifts I was in shock. They sat around the tree and opened their presents all at the same time. Yes, ALL at the same time! They did not open one gift at a time. They did not stop to enjoy their loved ones opening the presents they gave them. And hardly a “thank you” was spoken. It all seemed to be about me-me-me and what I was getting, not about others and the joy in giving.
Though I did not experience a peaceful and slow Christmas that first year away from home, it opened my eyes. I realized what a special ritual my parents had created. Exchanging presents the way we did, not only was a way to show appreciation and gratitude, but it strengthened our bonds with each other.
Every family has their traditions. Put the tree up on Thanksgiving; put it up on Christmas Eve. Have turkey; have ham. Watch the Nutcracker; watch A Christmas Carol. Have a hurried and frenzied Christmas; have a slow Christmas.
My parents’ very unusual gift of a slow Christmas was intentional. The peaceful pace was a way to honor the sacredness of the day. From taking our time at Mass and breakfast to not rushing through the opening of the gifts. The method they established of opening the presents fostered a sense of altruism and was a tradition that I knew I wanted to continue as I got married and started a family.
A slow Christmas is something I have strived for over the years, and honestly, I have fallen short many times. The one part of the slow Christmas that I have managed to carry on year after year is that of opening one – gift – at – a – time. A tradition started by my parents. A tradition I have passed on to my children. And it is a tradition I offer to you.
God bless, and have yourself a very merry, slow Christmas.