Much unwrapping of gifts later, and Christmas 2003 is over. (Except for the fact that some relatives' gifts have yet to arrive, and one large gift for the kid remains hidden in a closet for reasons explained below.)
It was somewhat different for us this year, mainly because the wife came down with whatever nasty infection I had last week, just in time for the holiday. It pretty much knocked her out: the new Christmas dress she was sewing for the Daughter, intended for the Christmas Eve church services we traditionally attend, is stuck in its "just about done" phase, which is just as well since the illness was such that we didn't even make it to the services at all. Likewise, we failed to do our traditional "drive around and gaze upon the lights" thing. And finally, the turkey we were going to roast stayed in the refrigerator, and instead I stepped up to the plate and made dinner. Three bowls of Ramen noodles wasn't very Christmas-y, but at least I used the "Beef" flavor, because the wrapper is red.
(That bit about the Ramen noodles was a joke! I did make dinner, but give me more credit than that. I made a Pastitsio [recipe here], which is the best thing I make. And I make a lot of good things.)
Gifts for the kid included a VW Beetle for Barbies, to go along with the miniature VW Beetle I provided for her preschool party a week back wherein "Santa" gave it to her. She loves VW Beetles, mainly because we watched a couple of the "Herbie" movies last summer. Thus, every time she spies a Beetle (new or old) on the road, she starts yelling with delight about the Herbie. (She also thinks PT Cruisers are Herbies, and I've stopped attempting to correct her on this. Easier that way.) The only problem is that the Herbie movies aren't nearly as well known anymore as they used to be, so when she proudly showed her new car to her friends and told her it was a Herbie, they had no idea what she was on about. That's what happens when you raise your kids on obscure stuff. (I can only imagine Darth Swank's kids' friends saying, "Who is Belldandy?")
Let's see, what else...there were three new books for her Leap Pad; a Playmobil Viking boat that came with two Vikings (with helmets, a dagger, a shield, and a battle axe!) and actually floats (she insisted on taking a bath immediately because of this); a Lite Brite (which excited the wife to no end, since she never owned one herself); a few jigsaw puzzles; a pair of kids' binoculars; a few books (including one that I just realized I forgot to give her); a beading set; and quite the assortment of candy (to go along with the caramel corn, English toffee, and sesame-butter cookies that I had already made). Not a bad haul, I must say. (The gift in the closet is an electric keyboard, which we're saving for when the wife's headache-inducing cold has gone away.)
Our practice is to set aside the two or three most "spectacular" gifts to put out before she rises Christmas morning; those are from Santa. Everything else we open Christmas Eve, and we make it known that everything that night is either from us or from relatives. Thus we keep the whole Santa-thing going while we also emphasize the idea of Christmas as a time to show devotion to family, among other things.
For the wife, I got mildly creative this year. I got a round, flat basket that is lined with red-and-green plaid cloth, and this I filled with four books, five special packets of flavored coffee, a small box of those hazelnut Rocher candies (if you like hazelnut and chocolate, these things are miraculous), and a DVD set of the second season of Mad About You, which was our favorite show when we were dating/engaged/first married. (The early seasons were the best -- the show should have ended with the birth of Paul and Jamie's kid, though. The last season was something of a train wreck.)
For me? Not important really. I got a few lovely things, including something handmade by the wife which she managed to make right under my nose. But I was more happy to watch everyone else open their things. I know a lot of people get overly annoyed with the gift-giving aspect of Christmas, and I do sympathize with the relentless commercialization. I've tried in the last couple of years to veer away from "pretty stuff" to things that will be enjoyed more slowly and deeply -- there's probably some kind of Thoreau-ish impulse at work here -- like a handful of books with coffee to read them with, bundled in a pretty basket. I'm tired of those idiotic reports on the TV news where some reporter goes to the mall and quizzes people on what they're planning to spend this year, and the doubled annoyance that such reports this year were invariably coupled with hand-wringing about the economy in general, thus sending a tacit message: "If the economy doesn't get going and unemployment stays high, it's your fault because you didn't fill your house and the houses of others with an appropriate amount of stuff!"
Yes, I'm troubled by robotic gift-giving, and I'm troubled by the all-too-easily-embraced attitude of "Keeping up with the Joneses" that can take root at Christmastime. But just one sincere "Oh, wow!" from someone as they realize what's inside the wrapping paper makes a lot of that disquiet go away. And a chorus of Oh, wow!s from a kid? Well, that just about makes it all go away.
Until, of course, I have to clean up the $&%*#!! wrapping paper and boxes and those #&$*#($#@!!!! twist-ties that toy companies use to fasten everything to the package these days, of course. But hey, it's not all bad: this year I remembered to buy two eight-packs of AA batteries before Christmas. I'm getting better at this.