Just as Thanksgiving wraps up and I reconcile myself to the start of the cold season, the sight of lights going up on my neighbor’s roof cheers me up. I watch as other homes follow suit. One Saturday morning, I go downstairs to the basement where my stash of seasonal décor sits and pull out the green and red wreath. I check to see if the lights work, the battery apparently still has life in it. I dig out the wreath hanger and trudge upstairs.
That weekend, we set up not one but two trees. We pull out ornaments the children made through the years in elementary school. We talk about memories, precious and fragile. We bond over this ritual and sit under the glow of the pre-lit tree at night before going to bed.
I step out in the dark to watch the lights wink and glitter and hug myself a little tighter. When the kids are in bed, I start my annual ritual of making a list of people I want to buy gifts for. I start as always with my twins’ mother. I work my way down to their great grandparents. I spend the most time over those gifts. The rest is easy. Gift cards for teachers, service folks and bus drivers.
I take stock of the year, the growing needs of my children and strive to strike a balance between fun and practical as I start my search for gifts for my children. This takes a few days. Inspiration strikes at random times. Sometimes it is the notice of a sale on board games, other times it is a chance wistful remark. Some are gifts I buy because those are the kinds of things I wish I had as a child. Shopping for Saathi is quick, clinical even. It is about needs rather than wants.
The boxes arrive staggered over days. I rush to get them before kids come back from school. Sometimes, I sneak out when they are in the shower. They lie stacked in my study alongside a pile of mostly unused stuff, unnoticed, in drab brown boxes. I unbox them late at night, sneaking them into rarely used cabinets, tucking them under bed linen and in the midst of stuff they pass by each day. I mull gift wrapping and decide a Santa sack is the way to go.
There is joy in seeing piles of stuff, consumerist as it is. I label, pile and put them away. I count down with the children, remarking each morning, the number of days to Christmas. Some evenings, we sit together, mom and daughters on our couch, visiting ghosts of Christmases past. We listen to off-key renditions of Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer and toothy, lisping wishes to their birth family. We aww and ooh at how little, how chubby, how happy they look in the old pictures.
I send pictures of my secret stash to my Amma and my cousin. I revel in the materialist nature of everything I do. I am unabashedly happy scouring for and getting gifts ready. I show some pictures to Saathi and his groan makes me pause. If I celebrate everything about this time of the year, he hates everything about it. When I show him his gift-wrapped package, his guilt, and annoyance at having to reciprocate put a damper on my spirits. Not for long though as I creep about at night moving the cheeky elf from location to location and teasing Pattu about it each morning. In a week, this charade will end. We will wear matching PJs and grin from ear to ear as we open our sacks. By mid-morning, the deliciousness of anticipation is gone, vaporized, taking with it all festivity. The trees will stay up for a couple of weeks. The wreath will come down and we will get through the harsh winter as we look forward to spring and all things warm and sunny.
Rituals bring joy. There is happiness in the predictability of events. There is sentimental value in recounting memories. There is something touching about being thought about and accounted for. Most of all, there is a sublime pleasure in anticipating and giving in to the spirit of the season.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! Tis truly is the season of joy.