By nature, I suppose I’m a pretty sentimental guy. I mean I have rocks I chipped from the walls of my grandmother’s childhood house in Greece. I have my Aunt Tina’s framed picture of John Kennedy, and the first thank-you card my niece Lyndsey sent me. I know they’re just things. But to me they have real meaning.
The really amusing thing is that I inherited this trait from my maternal grandmother. It’s funny because she was such the polar opposite of my dad’s mom, my “yia yia,” who made me feel like the sun rose each day just so I’d be warm. On the other hand, I don’t think Grandma Abbie really liked me until I was 30!
But when Grandma sent me the first pair of boots I’d ever worn – three decades after I’d outgrown them – the box of 20-year-old Christmas cards in my garage suddenly made sense.
Like a lot of people, I have mixed emotions about Christmas. The negative stems from the gross materialization retailers and marketers have made out of it. The positive, regardless of one’s religious beliefs, is that it’s a great opportunity to tell people you love them.
I want my sons to recognize the positive. I recently realized that there are only a couple of presents from my childhood I remember today. But the Christmas Eve dinners, the laughs shared with my family, the teasing from my brothers – those I remember in great detail.
So you’ll excuse me if I use this space to share some sentimentality that I hope rubs off on my boys.
I remember kissing my Aunt Mimi under the mistletoe every year. And the box of cherry cordials Aunt Tina always brought for my mom. How my Uncle Chris used to take me shopping – just the two of us – and he’d buy anything I wanted. How yia yia would sit with me next to the tree and tell stories of her late brothers and my “papou.”
Maybe it’s becoming a father that’s made me even more sentimental, but I see a direct link between the intangible signs of love people show for one another at Christmas and what’s really important.
I remember Gus’ first Christmas. Uncle Dan sent him a baseball mitt even though he was only 7 months old. I knew right then my son would be cherished.
I remember Niko suggesting that Christmas was a celebration of my dad’s birthday. I knew right then my son and his papou were the best of friends.
Feelings of acceptance, of love, of being embraced simply for who you are, those are what Christmas is all about for me. It’s the one time of a year that without shame, without reservation, without hesitancy, we simply say “I love you” in some way or another.
My kids will get presents this year. Probably more than they need or want. But it’s OK, because they’ll get way more memories.
It’s my job to slowly help them realize that the memories are more valuable than any gift they’ll ever receive.
If I could, I would give up every Christmas gift I received in my life just to embrace my Aunt Mimi under the mistletoe one more time, or see my Aunt Tina pull chocolates out of a sack again. And there is no material item in the world that I would take in lieu of holding my yia yia’s hand again.
Those are the kind of feelings I want Christmas to bring to my sons one day.
I guess those items I’ve saved for all these years are really nothing more than a physical reminder of the love I was – and am – lucky enough to feel. Rocks from a Greek house have importance only because of the love between a grandmother and her youngest grandchild. A photo of a long-dead president is just a symbol of the relationship between an aunt and her favorite nephew. A thank-you card scrawled by a little girl is simply a reminder of the close friendship between a niece and her uncle.
And those boots? Well, those well-worn boots are evidence that Grandma Abbie did think the sun rose just to warm me. And maybe proof that I wasn’t always quite so preppy.
This Christmas season I urge you, I beg you – regardless of your religious beliefs – to make those who are important in your life understand you love them by creating lasting memories.
Merry Christmas everyone.