The Spirit of Christmas

I have a slight problem with materialism. If you have seen me–ever– this is pretty obvious. I wear cashmere sweaters to Zoe’s school where I literally sit on the floor with a bunch of two year olds and play with clay. This is even more obvious if you’ve seen me at church. (This, by the way, is an excellent indication of materialism. If someone has to spend forty-five minutes prettying herself in order to worship The Lord, what does that tell you? Because let’s be real: if Jesus appeared on the Earth tomorrow, I wouldn’t pick the four-inch heels to wear while following him.)

Incidentally, I’m not sure if the English alphabet has more letters or I have more shoes. Toss up, really.

I’ve known this about myself. It doesn’t bother me greatly. I’ve spent the last several years learning how to not kill myself, learning how to not be a douchebag, becoming a wife,  a mother, and, oh yeah, a Mormon. Basically, I’ve been unflagging in my efforts towards becoming a better person, and materialism was low on my priority list. 

I’m human. Jesus understands and probably likes my shoes. 

Here’s the wild part: I’m not materialistic anymore! Sure, a little still, but in minute ways compared to my old self from even one year ago. I promise you this because, believe me, I tried.

When I say that, I don’t mean that I tried to be pure and spiritual. No, no. I mean I tried to be materialistic. Really. And I couldn’t do it anymore. My mom and I have a tradition of going thrift store hunting every time I am in town and I waited for this Thanksgiving, practically salivating in expectation. I have a toddler, okay? I hadn’t shopped for myself in six months and hadn’t been to a movie theater in over two years. For reference, a scant four years ago I went shopping every month without fail.

So my mom and I tried to renew our tradition, and I felt… strange. I felt agitated. Every time we went to a store I felt acutely aware of the time and emotional energy slipping away into meaningless pursuits. I could be writing right now. Or reading. I could read The Elements of Strunk and White for the SECOND time this week!

Or better: spend time with my family.

Even the Black Friday shopping was different. Black Friday gets a lot of flack and I respect that, but let me  tell you how much I love Black Friday. I am one of the freaks who go out at midnight just because I like the idea of it. I used to work in retail– two jobs, actually– and I hard to work back-to-back overnight eight-hour shifts on Black Friday. Still loved it. 

I still bought a couple of things this time. A pair of headphones. Some make up. But the majority of the experience was snooping around in Bath & Body Works and wafting candles over my two year-old’s nose and teaching her the smell of peppermint. (Literally the first time she has ever heard of peppermint. Can you believe that? Should have taken a picture of her reaction. Children are remarkable and being entrusted with them is an incredible, divine, candle-wafting privilege.)

For years I heard my surrogate dad advise people to stop giving gifts entirely on Christmas. I would listen to him and think: that’s a great idea, and one I’m never going to follow. I’m not consumed by material things anymore, and I enjoy the process of giving gifts. It’s never been one of stress to me. 

This is all true, and still my husband and I are not exchanging gifts this year. Wait, let me be clear: I asked that we not exchange gifts! (My much healthier husband who has zero attatchment to receiving presents immediately agreed. This is duly remarkable because, a YEAR ago, he was at least as spoiled as I was.) we talked to my parents who will be here for the holidays and all agreed to forgo presents in lieu of experiences like this one: 

 

Santa: What do you want for Christmas? Zoe:Barbie doll. And chocolate.
 
… where I teach my daughter about Santa and inculcate a deep materialism. Just kidding! I mean enjoying the magical moments with family. Zoe was mesmerized by the lights and train displays at Santaland. I had the unique joy of watching her work up the courage to sit on Santa’s lap after getting too scared the first time.

But I have it on good word that Santa is still bringing her a doll; I’m a Christian, not a monster.

Bad joke. I actually considered not buying her anything, but it’s a small, fun thing, and I’m not concerned about our eternal progress. We’ll get there. 

We don’t need to deny our imperfections or shame ourselves with them. When we have the singular focus of learning how to love other people and how to do the right thing overall, pieces click into place. Some require much effort. Others, less so. I’ve donated about 70% of my wardrobe in the past year and still have more than I know what to do with. Work in progress. Chances are I’ll be completely selfless before the construction team ever finishes redoing the facade of my old apartment building. 

Jesus taught that it is easier for a camel to walk through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter Heaven. I’m reading the scriptures going: I’m, like, not even rich! I live in a 500 sq ft apartment with a toddler! I’m New York City poor! 

But I get the point. We choose what matters foremost in our lives. As I choose love in the marriage, in my callings, in my relationships, I can’t help but choose it over *gasp* even shoes. This is kind of inconvenient sometimes because I’ve already knocked binge-eating off of my list of coping mechanisms, and now that we cross off retail therapy I’m left with… prayer or reading scripture. Or a calling my best friend, but she practically counts as prayer. Except for the best friend part, kind of a crappy list when I’m feeling angry and rebellious! But ohmygosh is that the point. When I learn how to use it and instinctively rely on it, it’s the best list. Love and specific instructions. What more could I ask for?

Certainly not another pair of heels. 

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but my buddy Jesus has a birthday coming up. This is the part of Christmas Zoe is most excited for and so we have decided to adopt him into our family traditions by making him birthday pancakes on Christmas Day. Zoe will help him blow out the candles, of course. 

Merry Christmas, all. 

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