Christmas Coasters

They played quietly by the couch, behind the large black antique trunk that serves as a coffee table in the living room. On the other side of the trunk, Christmas chaos. There were 22 people in the house this holiday night. Children made up 50% of that number and accounted for 96% of the noise. Screams and shrieks of “Wow!” and “Look what I got!” ricocheted off flying bows, box lids and a blizzard of wrapping paper. Parents stood or sat at a safe distance on the perimeter, occasionally reminding their offspring to thank the person whose name was written on the “From:” tag.

While their older cousins plowed through piles of presents, Annie and Emma amused themselves with the old silver coasters they found on the end table, the same coasters they had been playing with for several days. The twins had their share of gifts to open. I tried to get them excited about it. Annie seemed to understand the concept of the initial rip, but then continued to tear the same bit of wrapping paper into smaller bite size pieces. The two of them had no desire to see what was inside their packages. Instead, Annie and Emma happily “gave” each other coasters. “I put one in your hand and you put one in my hand and we both get excited!” They spent their time gathering the old silver coasters the way a raven gathers shiny objects for its nest; oblivious to their relative value.

Watching my girls play I recalled their first Christmas last year. Babies, 2 months old, in red flannel sleepers snuggled together holding hands during an afternoon nap. And I thought about next Christmas when, God-willing, they will join their cousins in the merry mosh pit. What a brief and unique stage of life they are in. At 14 months of age they are too young to know better than to be anything but content with what they have.

This year a silver coaster. Next year, a coaster wagon.

Are we happier after Christmas than before? Are we happier after receiving what was on our Christmas list than before we put in our request to Santa? In the days prior to December 25th we’re told and sold that we will be.

Marketers spend hundreds of millions of dollars to convince us that the perfect gift brings happiness to both the giver and the receiver. What they don’t tell us is that happiness is a moving target. The gadgets that hit the bulls-eye this Christmas will miss by a mile next year. Were that not true, we’d all still be enamored with our 8-Track tape players.

Inherent in anything labeled “new and improved” is a Trojan horse of discontent. If what they have is new, then what you have is old. If what they have is improved, what you have isn’t as good as it could be. The screaming computer that made you happy last Christmas is now a daily reminder it’s not the speedster that is this year’s model. Who would have guessed that our level of technological awareness would become so focused as to be irritated by a five-second delay in processing time? Thirty years ago, the phrase “slow computer” would have been an oxymoron. God help us if we have to go back to electric typewriters and carbon paper. Because in our hard drive world I don’t think there’s anyone left who knows how to change a ribbon.

Are we happier after Christmas than before? Certainly there is value in giving and receiving, even if the good feelings are temporary. To watch our gifts bring smiles and excitement to those we love warms us. To open a gift and know that we are important to someone else is a wonderful honor.There are inherent blessings in giving and receiving, not the least of which is expressing our love to one another. We can always look for new and improved ways to appreciate the people in our lives.

Are we happier after Christmas than before? Annie and Emma showed no decrease in joy. They just kept playing with their coasters. Then again, they aren’t mature enough to appreciate that this may well be the purest, most innocent Christmas they will ever experience.

Happy are the toddlers, for no one has told them they shouldn’t be.

Todd A. Thompson – January 4, 2002


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