Last week, my mom asked me for Christmas lists — for me, for Steve and for Bini. Shortly, I will put out the same call, to my brothers, my parents, my in-laws. I know, it sucks all the spontaneity and “it’s the thought that counts”-ness out of the holiday. I understand. But we’ve been Christmas List People since 1985, since the Christmas of the leather jacket. Let me explain.
I was 15 in 1985 — a sophomore. That’s a touchy age for most teenage girls, and I was no exception. My friends were the end-all, my parents were idiots and the social pressure to look a certain way was intense. My mom had given up buying clothes for me without my input — I’d invariably roll my eyes and say: “I’m not wearing that.” I’m sure I was a delight, and I know karma is coming for me.
Anyway, “The Breakfast Club” was the movie of 1985, and every teenager could see themselves in one of the characters. I didn’t really identify with Molly Ringwald’s popular-girl character, Claire, but I loved her clothes. In particular, her leather jacket. It was brown and oversized, and she wore it with such insouciance. This was before the internet, of course, so I scoured all of the teen rags of the day, trying to find out where it was from. I didn’t find the exact jacket, but I found one similar, at Wilson’s, the Pantheon of mall leather-goods shops. I begged my mom for the jacket, and she said, “Maybe for Christmas.”
Christmas arrived and in the morning, I tore down the stairs like a kid. I saw, next to the Christmas tree, an opaque, hanging bag that said “Wilson’s.” I was so excited … until I opened it. It was not at all like the jacket I’d asked for. It looked like something an old person, like a 30-year-old, would wear. I was crushed. I have a terrible poker face.
I’m embarrassed to admit that I might have sulked around so much that my dad, who had chosen the jacket, sent me outside so he didn’t have to see my cheerless mug. (It was California. I was fine.) I could hear my mom arguing with him softly, saying things like, “Honey, stuff like this matters a lot to a teenage girl. I told you which jacket she wanted.” My dad was having none of it. He’d grown up in a very poor family, and as far as he was concerned, I was a spoiled, ungrateful brat. He would take the jacket back — and I would not get a replacement.
It’s true, I was a spoiled, ungrateful brat and it’s also true that I did not get a replacement jacket. But the next Christmas, my mother laid down the law: From here on out, we were doing Christmas lists, and if you went off list, it was at your own risk. We fell in line, and have done Christmas lists ever since.
Now that I have a child, I do see how wish lists, and their specificity, erode the true spirit of Christmas. I want my son to understand that Christmas, regardless of how you’re fixed church-wise, is a magical time of year, when families and friends gather together, and when people are a little kinder to each other. I adore Christmas and am prone to playing “O Holy Night” over and over, crying at the “fall on your knees” part, every every time.
These days, my Christmas list is pretty anemic anyway. This year, I want body lotion, a necklace and a book of photographs about materialism, oddly enough. My family cannot operate without a list anymore, and I don’t want to stress anyone out by leaving them without a playbook. Also, if I’m honest, I don’t want a bunch of crap that I’ll end up returning.
I know we’re not the only Christmas-list family out there. Do you use Christmas lists? Or do you wing it?