The Christmas I was ten was the year I didn’t get the gift I wanted.
No one saw me as I closed the door to Mama’s bedroom. Throwing myself onto her bed, I let the pillow absorb my tears.
Somehow, it didn’t seem right to be crying. Not on Christmas!
But you see, I didn’t get the purse I wanted for Christmas.
Oh, I got a purse, but not the one I thought I was getting.
With each gift I opened, things seemed to go from bad to worse.
“Nobody even cares that I’m sad,” I sobbed in the pillow. “Nobody probably even knows,” I added, feeling justified in my pity-party.
Perhaps I had hinted about the particular purse I wanted.
Maybe I’d made a point of staring longingly at it in the store, hoping someone would notice.
Surely someone would want to give me my heart’s desire.
Someone would be secretly watching me to see what it was that I really wished I could have.
Someone never noticed. Someone never gave. Someone else ended up feeling unloved and misplaced.
Someone expected a perfect Christmas in an imperfect world!
Thirty-plus years later, I can smile at the soaked pillow, the spilled tears, and the lonely heart.
I wasn’t unloved. I just felt unloved.
I was basing my value and my worth on the gifts that had been chosen for me.
I still remember the feelings, but I realize something greater now: love is not always able, or should not always give what I might think I want.
It was not that I was neglected.
My mother had more than gifts about which to worry. She had a monthly electric bill, a coal furnace to keep fueled, and nutritious meals to prepare on a shoestring budget.
She managed to maintain a home even though she’d been widowed with six girls under ten a few years earlier.
As a typical child, I was wrapped in my own wants instead of realizing the beauty of home.
I wanted dazzle, glitter, and special favors when I needed consistency, discipline, health, and shelter.
I wanted what no parent or family can offer: perfect gifts . . . for an imperfect child . . . in an imperfect family . . . in an imperfect world.
In my melancholy mood, I speculated that perhaps Christmas just wasn’t what it used to be.
But then, is it ever what our minds dream it was in the past?
Time has a way of diminishing the bad and accentuating the good.
In the excitement of unveiled presents, children forget that, a few days before, parents were grumpy, worn out from shopping and worrying about unpaid bills.
Somehow, in the midst of our humanness, we manage to bake the cookies and buy the gifts, stir the stew and sip the cider, sing the songs and make those memories . . . because it’s Christmas.
We manage to do it all because we are creatures of habit, sentiment, and tradition.
Today I still struggle with wanting to experience the perfect holiday season. I’d like the gifts my heart desires, expecting others to figure them out through osmosis.
I want all decorating completed in twenty-four hours or less, shopping without interruptions, and certainly the ideal gifts to be at my disposal and budget in whatever store I choose to shop.
Even in the midst of parties and celebrations, we can experience loneliness.
Is it because we expect others to meet our needs instead of reaching out to others less fortunate than we?
This season, which is meant to bring joy and cheer often isolates the unloved, unwanted, and alone.
This season . . . no wonder “bah humbug!” was Scrooge’s response to the season!
It’s an imperfect world.
This season, which proclaims joy and happiness, peace and love, should be able to promote and perpetuate those sentiments through our homes and hearts.
We expect the season to alleviate our loneliness, right our wrongs, and cover our losses.
It doesn’t because it can’t.
That’s because we take our eyes off the only perfect gift that was ever given: the God-child, Jesus Christ.
A perfect gift in an imperfect world.
The only way to experience the perfect Christmas, I’ve discovered, is to accept this perfect Gift.
This article was published in The South Boston Banner in 1999 and later in the book Southside Glimmers, which is available for purchase.