merry giftsmas and happy chanustuff

It’s 7:00 a.m. on Christmas Eve. The sky is still dark, and my dogs are snoring at my feet. My husband and daughter are away until afternoon. The last sip of the coffee I made at 5:45 is still hot in my lidded Thermos mug. The tree is twinkling, and the crows are barking hello to me as they fly over the house.

The room where I write is full of stuff—books, wrapped presents, framed photographs, guitars, a collection of cake plates, crow-themed items. The eight leather chairs are new.

Every year, without fail, I amass new stuff (alas, without purging much of the old). Because we’re not in hock, with credit card debt and a mortgage that’s higher than our home’s value, we can usually take care of the little emergencies—and even some luxuries, like a concierge doctor or a guitar.

For the last few years, I had a tough time getting jingly wit’ Christmas. Sure, I’m always up for eggnog and cookies, a couple of favorite holiday songs, festive lights (the gaudier the better). But the frantic buying of stuff has bugged me.

I guess that’s ironic, given that I am a material girl.

The other day, a friend was torn about lamenting. Her favorite ornament—a one-of-a-kind, personalized item given to her by her sister—had broken, and she wondered how to come to terms with the loss when she generally takes a Buddhist approach to attachments.

Well, cross that religion off my list! I love things! I mean, I love things.

Lording over the living room is a taxidermy crow. On the sofa is a crow hand puppet so soft and fluffy that I put my hand inside it regularly. On Halloween, I gave it a clown nose, and it cheers me. On the bookshelf, I have a glass vase filled with hundreds of paper cranes. Those cake plates? I have seven of them.

Some of the things I have can be replaced, but so much of what I love most is a reminder of whom I love most: my thoughtful husband and daughter, who brought me a frozen crow in the dead of winter; my sister, who always gives the best gifts and helps to talk me down from the ledge; Grace, a young artist, who is already a star in my book but who is destined for others’ books; friends who helped me celebrate the release of my own book.

The woman who’d lost her ornament quoted someone named Peter Walsh. “The memento is not the memory,” she reminded me. True! But for me—menopausal, forgetful, busy, over-stimulated—that memento is the trigger for that memory. It reminds me to think of those people and their goodness every day, not just when they pop randomly into my head.

For the past few years, I’ve been a Christmas curmudgeon. This year, though, I’ve made some new material attachments. And to temper all this getting—paintings, earrings, magnets that say “Fuck” and “Shit”—I gave. I supported half a dozen Kickstarters. I donated to public radio and poetry and Wikipedia! Now they are my things, too.

I still hate that stuff-buying is a holiday. I want giving and receiving to be more special than that. People should display their affection with material items when they come across something that is you, something that would always remind you of their love, like the way they share a link on your Facebook wall. It shouldn’t be dictated by the calendar. Or maybe it should be on your own birthday, rather than someone else’s.

How do you fight that, especially when you have children, even though that’s when it seems most important to try?

The Christmas card I made for the year (yes, it’s a Christmas card; Rudolph is on the front) says, “May your joys outnumber your toys.” I do mean it. And if your toys bring you joy, too—well, you do the math.

Steven Wright said, “You can’t have everything; where would you put it?” He’s right, of course. But I still have some room.

* * * *

I miss you, Mark Harp. This will forever be your day.

RIP, Cleopatra.

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