27 Dec

I’m giving up, for the moment, on attempting to write posts with any sort of informational value. I was asked to this blog on the basis of my being, like the other women here, an intelligent sort, and I’m highly likely to prove that entirely untrue within the next few weeks. Here goes.

If you live in any Western country and are not born of a heritage that exempts you from it, you have recently experienced the joys of Christmas or, if you are born of a heritage that exempts you merely from all of the Birth Of Jesus rigmarole, The Stuff Holiday. What fascinates me most about American Christmas in its present form is not the way it has become, for most people, little more than an end-of-year economic engine, as this is inevitable in a reportedly secular nation. For me, the most interesting yuletide contradiction is that after eleven months of teaching children to lock the door and not talk to strangers, we tell them that it’s perfectly fine for an eccentric foreigner to break into their house at night after they’ve sat upon his lap and confessed their innermost desires to him.

This likely deserves a disclaimer noting that I’m not overtly fond of Christmas. It’s not the religious connection that bothers me: I’m a Christian myself and would definitely put the birth of Jesus on my list of top ten historical events to observe in case of time machine access. On the flip side, the secularization of it doesn’t offend me either. Most people can generally agree that a holiday whose alternate meaning (so acutely storied by Charles Dickens and, later, Mickey Mouse) is charity toward others isn’t a bad thing. I don’t even begrudge the capitalistic trend toward charity to one’s self between Black Friday and the winter solstice. Many people like stuff, and that’s fine. The caveat is that I’d like to be left out of it.

As an adult, I’ve come to hate stuff, though you’d never know it by looking at my house. While we’re not yet at the level of losing the cat in it, we definitely have a stuff problem. The sources of this are twofold. One fold is my husband. During the summer months, he carries on a family tradition of venturing amongst the fields of tables and nooks of resale known as flea markets and garage sales. Most weekends can find him dragging objects into the house ranging from shelving units to video games. His collection of Pac-Man memorabilia is almost entirely derived from the local resale market, as well as a majority of the technological entertainment. Where else would you find not one, but two working Commodore 64s in-box for only $20 each but in the parking lot of a sporting arena? This fall, he developed the eBay habit that resulted in the pair of arcade machines that made twin treacherous descents into our basement. Yes, they were inexpensive, and I wouldn’t want him kicking himself for passing them up. There are also bathrooms that are smaller than these particular gaming consoles.

The other root of the stuff problem is laziness. I admit freely to being the main violator in this arena, and invite all to ignore any whiny protests on my part that it’s just so hard when I can’t throw out any of my husband’s stuff. No, the issue is inertia, both mine and that of the stuff. This goes even for objects that are not heavy; it isn’t the weight that matters so much as the fact that if an object occupies a place for more than a couple of days, it gains squatter’s rights. The few pieces of junk mail that have sat by the door for months make that the acceptable place for junk mail, if I don’t get it to the recycle bin immediately. If the laundry sits, unfolded, on the guest bed, then the guest bed becomes not only the dresser, but also the storage unit for months worth of flea market purchases. We haven’t seen the loveseat in the living room for a year, because that is where the console controllers sit. Why would we move them? That’s their place, and it would be wrong to evict them when we don’t really have another for them.

So it can be with some of the unexpected gifts received at Christmas. While I am exceedingly grateful for the love and affection shown by my greater inlaw population, it took a while to decide what to do with last year’s themed gift from my aunt, the theme being mittens. It was, ultimately, successfully broken up for storage in the kitchen (oven mitt), the workroom (car washing mitt), the vanity (loofah mitt) and the front closet (mittens). But the fact that this is one of my storage success stories is a testament to my miserable organizational skills, and may help explain why my Christmas list every year consists of “No, really, nothing. In fact, can you take some of our stuff?”

It doesn’t help that I am a terrible gift giver. I gaze at merchandise racks for hours, my mind as blank as a videotape under a massive electromagnet. What to get for my father, a retired man who, like my husband, tends to purchase whatever he wants on his own terms? Would he ever actually watch this Dr. Who DVD, or would it sit in shrink wrap for years like some have before? This is a hereditary condition, it turns out. Where my husband’s family is large, inclusive, and has a tradition of grand gift exchanges, mine is small, insular, and has a tradition of delaying holidays for weeks. This year’s Christmas celebration will be sometime in late January or early February, and by unanimous vote, will not include a gift exchange amongst the adults.

And that sort of charity, to me, is the greatest gift of all.


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