Seriously Winning Christmas

If giving is truly better than receiving, then ‘winning Christmas’ is the ultimate giving coup. Our family adopted the idea of winning Christmas as a way to acknowledge the really great gifts–the ones that make the receiver happy, really happy. On Christmas morning, I watch with a discerning eye to detect winning. Once in a while, a gift is received with such enthusiasm, it’s difficult to ignore–a clear-cut Christmas win. Other times, it’s tough to tell how a gift truly lands. In the moment, most gifts are received enthusiastically but I worry that an hour after the unwrapping carnage ends, the receiver forgets about, or worse, never uses the item. It’s a gamble that, for me, induces a serious case of agita.

I take gift-giving very seriously. I think back to last Christmas as I flip through the Mary Englebreit “The Magic of Christmas” themed notebook I have used for years to track my purchases. On the pages I’ve designated for each family member, I assemble lists of ideas, past gifts, and stocking stuffers. It’s a system of checkmarks and multiple color ink, scratch outs, and additions that keeps me from giving embarrassing repeat gifts and reminds me of past Christmases won. My notes remind me of the good and the not-so-good gifts, and what to focus on in the next round of buying and gifting.

This past Christmas, the winning stakes were a bit higher than usual. My son and his partner, Rachel, came ‘home’ to Boston for the holiday. Scott moved to Texas over five years ago and although we see each other a few times a year, it’s difficult to pick up on the new, evolving tastes and interests he acquires eighteen hundred miles away. I understood and feared the challenge ahead of me.

On Christmas morning, I positioned myself next to the tree to dole out the piles I had assembled for each family member. A smallish box containing Bose sunglasses teetered at the top of the boxes earmarked for Scott. The sunglasses were a risky purchase, much like any gift I purchase for him. I watched as he tore off the silver and gold wrapping paper and opened the box. He can be a tough one to please but these sunglasses, with speakers built into the temples near the ear, clearly hit the spot.

“Oh, I know what these are,” he said, having worked on a project that promoted the technology when it was new five or so years ago. I sensed his enthusiasm; he was clearly smitten with his new gift. A few hours later, I walked into the living room to see Scott sitting in the wing chair, staring off through his new Bose sunglasses. As he listened to something I figured was a podcast, I popped my head into his line of vision and he nodded in silent acknowledgment of my presence. Again, my heart was full, that is, once I got over the weirdness of the kid wearing sunglasses in the house.

When I chose the Kate Spade crossbody bag for Rachel, I knew I was taking a chance, not really sure of her taste or if she would like something like that. After we finished the gift exchange, I walked past the kitchen where I spied her dumping out the contents of her well-loved, well-worn, brown crossbody purse onto the kitchen table. As she transferred her wallet and the rest into her new bag, I couldn’t help but ask how she liked it.

“It’s good. I only wear crossbody bags,” she told me.

I marked that moment in my Christmas notebook as another Christmas win.

This year, the winning continued long after we unearthed our livingroom from red and green, tinsel-tinged glitter bomb of wrapping paper, discarded boxes, half-scratched lottery tickets, empty stockings, and toys of both grown-up and kiddie varieties. Three weeks into the new year and long after I rested on my Christmas gift giving laurels, my daughter, Lisa, sent me a text. I was sure it was to remind me to pick up our grandson at school that afternoon. Instead, she gushed about a silver and aquamarine bracelet I had given her for Christmas. She had worn it to a work gathering the evening before and had received compliments on the piece. 

“It’s not too delicate?” I asked. 

“Oh, not at all! It’s so pretty. I love it!” 

I appreciated her taking time out of her day to tell me how much she liked my gift. She understands I take winning Christmas very seriously and I live for feedback, especially the unsolicited kind. And is there anything better than knowing the joy of Christmas lives far beyond the season?

I happily report that the winning didn’t end there. A few days ago, my Apple watch buzzed with a text from Scott. Now safely back in Austin, he and Rachel had cashed in another Christmas gift from his dad and me, a gift certificate for a Cozymeal cooking class. His text featured a series of pictures of food and people. Instead of the suggested “Italian meal,” they had chosen a southern-inspired feast. I recognized the grits straightaway.  

I typed back, “How was it?” 

“It was fun,” he said. “Wanna hear the weirdest thing? Everyone in the class was from the Boston area.”

Besides being thrilled that they enjoyed the experience, his report made me wonder–maybe a few other moms and dads from Boston, with kids who live in Austin, had won Christmas, too. 

I can’t remember a time when Christmas winning lasted into February but I’m not complaining. As you can see, I take winning Christmas very seriously; for me, it truly is better to give than to receive.

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