Opening Letters

Taking Back Christmas

you don’t need to spend money on my gifts, you just need to rhyme

Tyler Griggs, illustrated by Ryan Carpentier |

Happy holidays! By this time of the winter season, I’m sure most of you have acclimated to the winter weather. After that first week of snow staying on the ground, you should be completely winterized: you bought that hoodie you’ve been meaning to get, replaced your dulled red window scraper, and no doubt bought a loved one a holiday sweater lined with cheery Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer faces on the red- and green-striped sleeves.

As for me, I’ve been delaying, denying, and trying to stay away from the winter season. Don’t get me wrong – I’m no Ebeneezer Scrooge, malcontent, or Grinch with a heart three times too small. But about this time last month, as with every year, I receive a very pointed question from my mother. And for as strange as this may sound, it’s a question I dodge for as long as I can. This year it came in the form of a text message: “How r u? I need christmas ideas before friday!”

And every year, I let her know: “Nothing! Buy me nothing! I want nothing for Christmas!” This was the week before Thanksgiving, and I am still keeping a fair distance from the holiday rush of buying presents. Her request stirs in me a sense that capitalism is again hijacking my yuletide cheer: Christmas as a commodity to be sold and given to each other. I say “buy me nothing” with a hope that I can somehow get around the artificial sense of the holidays and find happiness in non-material things. My mother and I go through this exchange every year.

But this letter isn’t about capitalism’s alleged bad influence on the holiday season. After Mom planted that seed in my head a few times, I notice I’ve begun to subtly make assessments of, say, the condition of my clothing, how comfy the bedspread is, and how badly I’ve been meaning to pour over my own copy of Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves. I won’t be the first one to say it, but dang, getting presents sounds pretty good after a while.

Around now is the time I cave in to my parents’ requests. But this holiday season, for the first time, I’m fighting to take Christmas back. I’ll play their game. Sure! I gave a full Christmas list to my parents, complete with inventory-shifting ideas and goodies. Then, I confronted them individually and tasked each to give me one final present: an original poem.

That’s right. Mom whined for a few minutes before accepting my request, and dad stared at me blankly for 10 seconds before agreeing. I wanted a poem. Not only would it help restore a sense of non-material gift-giving to my family, but it also gives me a unique opportunity to see them as not just parents, but people – a perception I think most children, young and old, never break into.

So, without telling them why, I made sure they knew the poem is important to me. I will have my poem. And if I do not get my poem, my holiday season will be completely ruined. About this present, my behavior was that of a spoiled child.

The assignment is completely open-ended; they may write about whatever they like and however they like. The only condition is that it must be at least 20 lines of text long. Bear in mind neither parent has expressed himself or herself with the sole intention to create art in a long, long time, if ever. Deadline: Christmas Eve.

I am so interested into how their poems are going, I had to follow up on their progress. As of a week before this issue hits the streets, Mom, who hasn’t written creatively in her whole life, says she has two lines finished and intends to write one line a day. She makes certain I know how hard this is for her, and equates the task to her asking me to crunch numbers from several forms to assess whether a mortgage loan should be accepted, denied, or conditioned. However Dad, who hasn’t written creatively 35 years, has already finished. He had lots to say about his experience.

“It was a surprise and a wonderful challenge that a child would ask a parent for something seemingly as simple as a poem. Dutifully and willfully starting the poem was a journey into the unknown, as a non-poet. It turned out to be a deep introspective look into life. It was exhilarating, exhausting, and quite profound,” he said, “A lot of people don’t use their creativity because they’re busy with their life or their job requires it. But it’s fun to know that inside of us creativity is there somewhere. That’s the really amazing part. And I think each one of us can become poets in our own way.”

Come Christmas Eve, I am looking forward to opening my presents.