Holiday meaning beneath candy and gifts
By Jessica Horney
Holidays are a scam.
By the time you read this, my kids will either be in an Easter candy coma, or the bitter owners of yet another complaint for their future therapists: “She didn’t even believe in Easter baskets. Easter baskets!”
I can’t decide if I believe in Easter baskets.
My wavering faith in popular holiday traditions began in my garage a few months ago. I trotted out to put away the Halloween trick or treat buckets, opened the cupboard full of our holiday paraphernalia, and the Easter baskets were right in the middle of the shelf. So I had to push aside three baskets to store three buckets, all on top of a bin holding three Christmas stockings… And that’s when I realized that holidays are a scam in which we simply change the color of the container that we fill with treats and gifts.
This feels like a conspiracy. Am I missing something here? Am I the only one just now realizing that corporate America has brainwashed me into thinking that each month has a color scheme? Does the dollar spot at Target determine more about my yearly rhythm than the actual Gregorian calendar? Do my kids think the world revolves around parties and surprises, with me giving and them receiving? Is my life a figment of a marketing exec’s imagination?
Christmas stockings. Valentine’s boxes. Easter baskets. Halloween buckets. Switch the foil on the candy, trade the red velvet dress for pastel sandals, and suddenly it’s a whole new holiday, kids.
I’m not sure what bothers me so much about all of this. It might be the lavish giving that each holiday proposes, and what this tells my children about what they “deserve.” It might be how the giving often eclipses any other meaningful traditions around a celebration, each intentional move towards faith or beauty or generosity blown over by cellophane-wrapped bunnies and Amazon deliveries on my doorstep.
Maybe by now you’re wondering what’s wrong with me. In a world where the shelling of Ghouta, the eastern area of Syria, is happening and cities are burning and many, many kids far and near need help or homes or both, questioning Easter baskets seems trivial. Asinine, even. There are bigger problems to solve, harder questions to ask. And really, how can it be wrong to give my kids a gift? I love them, I want to give them good things, I love the joy on their faces when I give them thoughtful presents, I love to eat all of their holiday candy after they go to bed — these things are acceptable and even expected in some circles (I mean maybe not the candy stealing, but I’m not above it). But these traditions feel clunky to me, old-fashioned in the way that littering seems old-fashioned — as soon as you think about what you’re actually doing, it’s too absurd to continue.
Except, I want to continue holiday customs. Because I love the stupid traditions. I delight in watching my kids skip in the sunshine towards a wicker basket full of little gifts and chocolate eggs. I can’t sleep on Christmas Eve, my heart aflutter with nervous happiness for my son to unwrap his astronaut helmet. I hang balloons for kids’ birthdays and make heart cookies in February, and I am a sappy, weepy, holiday fanatic.
But here’s the problem: I don’t know if these traditions create the kind of people I want to raise. I’m asking these asinine questions because I want world-changers in my house, kids who build safety nets for society and friendships that last, and who dive into the world with open eyes and hearts. So when I give them too many gifts and then wonder why they act selfish, I may be delusional. Let’s get serious — the real problem isn’t the kids. I like to blame the children for their attitudes of entitlement, obviously. But last I checked, they don’t have any money. So whatever they are getting too much of, or whatever it is that fills their hearts instead of love and truth, I gave it to them. In a colorful bucket.
I don’t think the buckets and baskets are wrong. But they’re not enough. I want my kids to question what they hear and what they see, to take in the world as a beautiful, marvelous, complicated place. I want them to stay curious, eager to learn and aware of what matters. So maybe I’m overthinking it, but I keep these end goals in mind when I consider things like baskets full of marshmallow chickens or piles of birthday presents. Traditions are not wrong simply for being traditions. But, like everything else in my life, I want to hold these “certainties” up to the light and examine each one, weigh them in my hands, and decide with care whether or not they bring life to my family.
Perhaps, with balance and sincerity and self-control, our family can create our own culture around celebrating each other and what we believe. We can enjoy holidays with imagination rather than (or alongside) rote traditions. We can hike through the foothills and find a wide view of the city, or serve dinner to others instead of serving ourselves, or meet the sunrise at a mountain lake, or make our own ice cream and laugh with friends; these are all gifts of great value. They speak of an inheritance of adventure, kindness, and meaningful connection, a fresh way past the consumerism and passive, somewhat silly, receiving of a basket or bucket or long sock.
I’ll probably do Easter baskets this year. Mostly because I saw some miniature gardening gloves and sun hats at Target that couldn’t be avoided. And I will also keep working to create a new paradigm for holidays, a new way for our family to think about loving and giving, on normal days and special days alike.
And I’ll go out the day after to buy the half-off candy for myself, because self-control is a journey. Amen.
Jessie Horney is a freelance writer and poet. Find her at www.horneymomtellsall.com.