Christmas in July was something that I was thinking about doing with these posts this year…and just never got there in July. <shrug> It’s been one of those years — so much to do, so little time. But I figure, this is my blog/email list/newsletter. I can post Christmas in July pretty much anytime I want. So, it’s Christmas in July in August!

For most people who celebrate Christmas, in general it’s thought of as a magical time of life. Certainly, it’s mostly filled with good memories. There is the flip side there, too. Christmas can be a stress-filled nightmare if things aren’t going well. Either way, amongst people who celebrate Christmas, more often than not, memories surrounding Christmas are never neutral. It’s pretty universal.

So, I thought I’d throw these out there — my three most significant Christmas gift openings.

(By the way, I just wanted to mention — a huge thank you to everyone who’s dropped me an email in reply to any of these Saturday stories I’ve been posting. I’m having so much fun writing them. When I get up Sunday morning and my inbox is flooded with replies, I have just as much fun reading those.)

1979

The Christmas of 1979 was a terrible Christmas. And it was entirely my own fault.

And no, it was not the year that I discovered there is no Santa Claus. That year hasn’t come, yet. I hope it never does. Santa’s a pretty cool guy. Yes, I’ll admit that on occasion I have had to help him out by downing the milk and eating the cookies the kids left out for him but, it’s all for a good cause.

In 1979, my father was building us a new house. And in between the time when our old house sold and our new house was ready to be lived in, we rented a house a short distance away. And now that we were all old enough to be left on our own after school, my mother had gone back to work.

It was winter time and my brothers loved to play outside — building snowforts, tobogganing and the like. For me, anything to do with being outside in the cold wasn’t something I was interested in doing. Besides, I had a mission. One that required no witnesses. Snooping for Christmas presents. And I found ’em. And played with ’em. I knew what each of us three boys was getting that Christmas.

When Christmas morning came, I watched as each of the toys I had discovered just a few short weeks before was unwrapped by either me or one of my two brothers. It was the most boring, uninspiring, fuck-I’ll-never-ever-do-that-again Christmas. Nothing whatsoever wrong with our gifts. In fact, they were great. But knowing in advance what we were getting just killed it for me.

If you think about it, life is that way, too. Some of the best moments of my life, I didn’t see coming. Same goes for the worst moments of my life. But, without any one of those moments, I wouldn’t be where I am today. If I’d known they were coming, I might have changed them.

And so, I still believe in Santa Claus. I don’t know what he’s bringing. I don’t want to know. And every Christmas, I’m still the first one up, giddy with excitement.

It’s funny, though… when I was young, Santa’s handwriting looked exactly like my mother’s.

Hmmm…

1985

Just after I turned 19, I lost the job I had at a restaurant in the city. I was still living with my parents in Ardrossan, 30 minutes out of town and having little money for gas meant that it wasn’t the easiest thing to drive into town to look for a job. As it turned out, I was unemployed for nearly the whole year.

That was a difficult year for me, personally. At 19, you want to be out and about with your friends. In order to do that, I’d have to borrow $20 from my parents every weekend. My friend, Kevin, who I’m still friends with, would pick up the slack when my $20 would run out. As the year wore on, I began to dread the approach of weekends. It got harder and harder for me to ask for money from my parents or Kevin. (I can’t imagine how street people do it, day after day.) And that Christmas, 1984, was horrible. Luckily for me, both my parents and Kevin left me to work the employment situation out for myself and didn’t harp at me, “When are you going to get a job?” I learned so much more solving the problem myself, on my own terms, than I would have if I’d done it under pressure.

The universe is a funny place. The moment you decide to act, it seems to set in motion a cascade of events that had been primed and ready for just that moment. I ended up stumbling across a bartending course that would place you in a job after your completed it. And away I went. Completed the course. Got a job. Bartending. Raking in money. Wages plus tips. Twenty years old, no debts. Life was good.

That was the first Christmas where I actually sat down and worked out what I was going to get everyone. I ignored the wish lists my family made. Sat down and said, “The sky’s the limit.  What would be the perfect gift for each of them?” And what I came up with is what I got them. Including Kevin. They were going to have the best Christmas. That was how I was going to make up for being such a burden to them for the past year.

But, a funny thing happened. I ended up having the best Christmas, too. It was the first time I ever got more enjoyment out of watching them open their gifts than I did opening my gifts. Watching someone’s thrilled reaction to a gift that actually took some thought; that shows you know them and you love them; that wasn’t selected off of a wish list; is one of the best feelings ever.

Since that Christmas, I try to make every Christmas that way. It doesn’t always work, and sometimes money and time restricts what’s possible. But when everything falls into place like it did in 1985, Christmas is the most magical day of the year.

2010

Sometimes, life gives you an opportunity. Most people don’t see them because they come in the form of problems. I confess that I didn’t used to see them for that very reason. I couldn’t look past the immediate problem. Luckily, over the last few years, I’ve cultivated that skill and now find that the habit is well entrenched. Sometimes, what you learned while solving the problem itself is the opportunity. Other times, having the problem creates the opportunity. Such was the case with Christmas 2010.

We had had a crappy year financially and, in terms of buying Christmas presents for the kids, it came down to a choice between buying them or groceries. We weren’t going to be able to do both. Taking all our empties to the bottle depot helped a bit and we were able to scrape together a little bit of cash so they’d at least have something under the tree Christmas morning. But, it wasn’t going to be much and we weren’t feeling too good about that. We were struggling to come up with something, anything else to give them.

And then, just a few days before Christmas, it hit me. When I was living in Calgary back in the mid-1980’s, my father and I had exchanged letters that had initially started out talking about the imminent arrival of his first grandchild and had become so much more. I feel safe in saying that both of us treasure those letters to this day. So, I thought, “What if we wrote a letter to each of the kids telling them just how proud we are of them?” I ran it by Tracy and we both agreed that, while we’d prefer to get them better gifts, in light of our financial woes, letters would have to suffice. So we wrote the letters and crossed our fingers when we put them under the tree inside Christmas cards for each of the kids.

And I’m sure that both of us held our breath as the three of them opened their letters simultaneously.

That was the best Christmas! We cried together, laughed together, played together, and overate together. I don’t think we could have bought anything that would have been as well received as those letters. What started out looking like a crappy Christmas became the best Christmas we ever had.