This will be my 52nd Christmas.
My attitude towards the commercial side of this yearly celebration has evolved over the last half century. My journey of yuletide gifting began in the 1900’s during the mid-sixties, and in those days, like these days, Christmas was all about getting toys. Except back then the only internet I had access to was the Sears catalog. The glossy pages of its toy section were where a kid like me browsed for potential gifts, but there was no electronic cart to store items in until you proceeded to checkout. I’d just circle what I hoped Santa would bring and then somehow that data landed on his North Pole desk with enough time for the elves to construct it.
The first toy I remember really wanting and getting was a G.I. Joe.
This was around 1972, so my moveable action figure (it wasn’t a doll!) must have come from the original G.I. Joe lineup. He was twelve inches tall, had a tight, fuzzy brown crew cut glued to his head and two uniform changes, but zero Kung Fu grip since Hasbro hadn’t invented that feature yet. Specialist Joe and I went on hundreds of perilous missions that Christmas holiday, including one unsuccessful attempt to free my sister’s Barbie from evil Dressy Bessy and her Chatty sidekick Cathy.
My belief in Santa lasted almost ten years.
For the first decade of my life, I received piles of presents from this magical man without ever questioning the dubious nature of his operation. That childish blind faith in holiday magic and the resulting booty is what made Christmas the most important day of the year back then.
But even after the truth of Santa became clear, his yearly toys just kept coming.
Through the late seventies and half of the eighties, I came out ahead every Christmas. The only thing my pile of Santa gifts cost me was a handmade card and a box of raspberry Fanny Farmers from the mall for my parents . For almost zero thought and only slightly more money, Christmas became the best deal a selfish teenager like me could afford.
Then, during my twenties, I began working the holidays.
With no wife or kids of my own, I spent that entire decade doing shows on the road as a comedian. Christmastime and New Year’s Eve were the biggest money gigs of the year for me, so the idea of giving that $ up to spend time with my family was about as unappealing to me as putting any thought into what others might enjoy. Gifts were still exchanged during that decade, but the ones from me showed very little personal touch, though I’d argue the office supplies I gave out one year were both extremely useful and highly underappreciated.
I spent my thirties living in Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles.
During that period, most of my Christmastimes were away from my family. My sisters started having my nephews and nieces, and I began to feel guilty about the gift choices I was making so I began creating better care packages for my parents, three sisters, and their kids. Only by the time I’d bought, wrapped, packaged, and finally mailed out those boxes it was a good week or two after New Years.
Then I met my wife.
Gretchen was raised a Buddhist, so Christmas means something entirely different to her. When she began receiving the gift packages that my family would send, she felt the desire to return the favor. At first it went no better than how it did for me, but after over a decade of polishing her operation, our packages began getting bought, wrapped, and sent out a mere two and a half weeks after Thanksgiving.
With children of my own now, Christmas is back to being special.
Santa has returned to my world, only this time it’s my job to sell my kids on his impossible-to-believe business procedures. And when they ask, “Dad, is there really a Santa?” I ask them, “What do you believe?” and as long as they still say, “That he’s real,” I’ll do my job as a daddy and say, “Then, he is, baby, he definitely is.”
Turns out my attitude towards Christmas has evolved back into what it used to be. Only now, it’s my turn to leave that pile of holiday magic out for my own children. Polymer modeling clay and a backlit tracing table are their G.I. Joes of choice this year, and I can’t wait to see their faces when they find out they’ve gotten exactly what they’ve asked for.
Funny, all I’m hoping for is a homemade card and some Fanny Farmers.
- Mike Lukas
Thanks for reading, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.
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