by Cathy Scibelli
Our family is gathered around our scraggly, tinsel-laden tree in our tiny living room. The stockings are hung by the cardboard chimney and the painted paper fire is glowing from the light of an orange bulb attached to the back of it.
The Christ Child is in the manger surrounded by a conglomeration of figures my mother has put together over the years, each one purchased from Lamston’s five-and-ten. There are about six Wise Men, ten angels and fifteen shepherds, along with two St. Josephs. (When my mother found a St. Joseph she liked more than the original one, the first St. Joseph was demoted to a shepherd.) Some pieces are plastic, some china. One angel is missing his nose and a camel has a chip that looks like one of the shepherds’ dogs has taken a bite out of his leg.
My sister and I are passed the stage of believing in Santa so my mother has put our gifts under the tree already. Almost all our presents come in the mail from the Sears catalog and clothing items arrive without gift boxes. My mother thinks it’s beyond ridiculous to pay for empty gift boxes so she wraps everything without a box. This makes it easy to take inventory of how many “fun” presents you have and how many are clothes. (Although sometimes you’re fooled–a semi-soft package with an interesting shape that you thought was a stuffed animal might turn out to be a pair of fuzzy bedroom slippers.)
My mother never asks for jewelry or perfume or fancy clothing. Raised on a farm in New England with eight kids during the Depression, she thinks it the height of luxury to receive gifts such as an electric knife or the latest mixer or, God help me, a new steam iron. We kids are hoping for Colorforms, board games, a stuffed animal. My father keeps shaking the gift I’ve proudly bought him with my allowance and says he can’t wait to find out what it is. (It’s a blue toothbrush.)
All is right in our world tonight.
Fast forward to Christmas 2011: The media and merchants tell us we need a perfectly shaped pre-lighted artificial tree, a Fontanini manger that costs more than my parents’ first car, and if we don’t have a real fireplace then we need an electric one with an artificial glowing fire that crackles like a real one. We need to forgo the Thanksgiving holiday to stand on-line waiting to grab the latest electronic wonder items for our kids, and then toss the keys to a new Lexus into a perfectly wrapped gift box for our spouse. Meanwhile, they ply us with ads for anti-anxiety and anti-depressant drugs to help us through the “stressful holiday period.”
Maybe it’s time to turn a deaf ear to these messages and return to the values we once had, realizing that the richest among us are not necessarily those who can afford to have the best holiday money can buy.
Cathy Scibelli is a Story Circle Network Star Blogger. A list of her published writing appears on her Facebook page she maintains a blog called The Iconic Muse.