You know the sort of scene in a movie where some startling secret is revealed–our heroine comes across something that she wasn’t expecting, behind a door, in some old chest, or maybe in an ordinary drawer. There might be fancy camera work involved, maybe some lighting effects, certainly striking music. The thing revealed signals a huge shift–it changes everything.
With no cameras rolling, I had one of those moments last week. I know that sounds a bit dramatic, but even without a high-impact soundtrack, it was a stunner.
What could be hidden in a drawer in my little old New England farmhouse?
It wasn’t a secret Revolutionary War diary (the house was built a few decades after the Civil War). It wasn’t some dessicated and disgusting foodstuff that a child had taken as contraband up to a bedroom. It wasn’t a lost library book (I’m still looking for a slim paperback that currently has -1 renewals available).
Here is what I found, in a drawer underneath el Guapo’s side of the bed: a stash of things I was planning to give for Christmas, 2014.
That doesn’t sound earthshaking. Let me explain.
This revelation was about more than just the physical contents of the drawer. For one thing, it also revealed in a very concrete way the fact that my memory is not what it used to be. (Or am I realist now, when in the past I overestimated my ability to remember things? That’s probably part of it.)
Oh, I knew I’d misplaced at least one thing amid the pre-holiday chaos. I had planned to give my mom a new silicone pastry brush, hers having been mostly reduced to dejected silicone stubs. When it came time to open gifts, I looked around vaguely, wondering what could have happened to it. But I had something else for her, and I assumed I would run across it shortly.
Right after Christmas there was the massive road trip you heard about here and here, and then there was getting el Guapo ready to leave for Spain, and then began the legendary blizzard-a-thon of 2015, the emergency hot water heater replacement, the shoveling sequence on endless repeat, the ice dams (walls streaming, light fixtures filling with water). We were pretty hunkered down. I didn’t really have a “how did Christmas go this year?” debriefing, in my head, or anywhere else.
No, the really world-shifting thing about the contents of the drawer was not that I had forgotten where I’d put these potential gifts. It was that the absence of these things had not made a difference, either to their potential recipients, or to me. The absence of gifts, not making a difference? Can you hear the lines from How the Grinch Stole Christmas? Picture the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow, puzzling and puzzling, realizing that he hadn’t stopped Christmas from coming.
It came without ribbons! It came without tags! It came without packages, boxes or bags!
I’m not a Grinchy person. I have no interest in keeping Christmas from coming. If anything, one of my difficulties is that I can get a little carried away. Each year in the fall I tell el Guapo that this year I’m going to try to scale back a bit in the gift department,* and each year he tells me that I said that last year. Each year as I get ready to wrap gifts, I realize that I haven’t really scaled back.
Except this year. I felt like I’d kept things under control more than usual–and now I know one reason why. There was a drawer full of stuff I had forgotten about.
Discovering this gift stash has been really good for me. Always before, my scaling-back intentions had to contend with my worries about disappointing someone, worries that people would look under the tree and think of the gifts there as somehow meager.
I should have thought more carefully about it. I should have recognized that my gift scheming was as much wrapped up (see what I did there?) in my wanting to feel like I was doing “enough,” as it was in trying to think of things that would be genuinely loved. In any event, “giving gifts” is not my love language.† I’m pretty ambivalent about it.
Then there’s the whole piece that involves the intersection of me being fanatically frugal with me wanting to downsize, de-clutter, and bite my thumb§ at the whole holiday-industrial complex. Anytime someone tries “you need a thneed” on me, I just get all rebellious.
My forgetting the gift stash allowed me to see the results of a natural experiment: what would happen if there were not very many gifts, and most of them were pretty small-scale? Well, nobody boycotted, nobody fell into a decline, nobody complained about a lack of loot. And we sang some songs, and we made candles, we dressed up as angels and sheep and three kings. We laughed, we hugged, we ate, and we were glad to be together.
The one thing that the Grinch and I have in common–a tendency to overestimate the role played by gifts at Christmas–is something I can fix. Opening that forgotten drawer opened a way for me to work on adjusting the balance in our Christmas season.
Knowing the gift piece isn’t as important as I was making it, I’m free to consider whether there are changes I can advocate that would increase the stuff we want (comfort, fun, loving togetherness) and decrease the stuff we don’t want (harried busy-ness, random stuff proliferation, let-down). We might be able to enjoy our Christmas celebration in new ways.
I don’t know if you’re curious about what all that stuff was inside the hidden drawer. I’m afraid the pastry brush is the only thing I’m going to disclose. I know that gifts aren’t that important, but I’m still going to wrap them and give them next year–if any of them will add rather than detract from the holiday, and if I can remember what I was going to give to which person!
*We generally have an abundance of gifts under the tree, if the metric is quantity. Dollar value is quite another matter–I’m sure many people’s stocking stuffers could take our regular gifts in a smackdown.
†I think the name of that love language is actually “receiving gifts,” and I run into troubles, there, too. For more info on love languages you can try here. I try taking the quiz, and despite feeling that I’m pretty good at loving and being loved, when it comes to love languages, I feel like I’m probably functionally illiterate. Or maybe I’m terrible with multiple choice tests. Or just indecisive. I can’t decide.
§If I want to send a message in such a situation, I like the idea of borrowing an insult from a great geographical or chronological remove, like some classic Shakespearian defiance.