My brother and I were born in 1966 and 1969, respectively, and grew up in a middle class household that probably found its way into the upper middle before either of us reached puberty. My parents were atheists and this total lack of belief in God extended to Santa Claus – I don’t ever remember believing in Him or him.
What I did believe in was getting a buttload of stuff for Christmas. My brother and I would start filling out our lists as the Thanksgiving dishes were being cleared, dishes that we did not have to wash because, as I remember, my brother and I didn’t do a whole lot around the house. There was this idea that we should be left alone and allowed to be children, which meant, more or less, that we watched a lot of "Three’s Company" and thought about things we wanted our parents to buy for us.
We got so much stuff for Christmas it was nuts. Typical loot for me might include a pair of new skis, new boots, a ski pass, two sweaters, two shirts, a game, a pair of earrings, a few posters, and a few cassette tapes. Up until he was 13 or so, my brother got all that plus whatever hockey equipment he needed to support his career as a star pee wee hockey player. Hockey equipment wasn’t necessarily put under the tree, and I resented this. After we opened gifts, I would sit there surrounded by a mountain of wrapping paper and complain that technically, my brother had gotten more than I did because he got all that hockey stuff.
Lest you think that my brother was the innocent angel in this story, his birthday fell on December 26, and when my parents dependably showered him with a quantity of gifts at least equal in amount and expense to what he had received not 24 hours earlier, he could be depended upon to whine that I had gotten way more on my birthday three months earlier, and it wasn’t fair that his birthday was the day after Christmas. And then my brother and I would argue, at length, about which of us had gotten less stuff.
I should say here that my father was a public official and his salary was printed yearly in the local newspaper. I should also say that with the benefit of hindsight, I know now that this was not a terribly large salary. But it was a lot more money than my brother or I could imagine having at our disposal, so whenever we wanted anything and didn’t get it, we would say, “But Dad makes so much money.”
I have some memory of how my parents reacted to our ingratitude. I think my mother cried a few times. I know my dad used to laugh when we said he made a lot of money, but that one day, he shouted at us, and we were too terrified to ever mention it again. I think at one point my mother actually went apeshit and said she was never going to buy us anything ever again, and she may have even thrown a pair of skis. I’m sure at the time we thought she was insane. Thinking about it now, years later, it is remarkable to me that she did not murder us in our sleep.
I don’t have kids. I guess I never wanted to deal with anyone acting as badly as I did. My brother has two, and they’re pretty good, they get that they have a lot, relatively speaking, and that they can’t have everything they want. Sometimes I will hear a kid whining to his parents that he wants this or that and I'll think to myself that he's a brat, but no one could have been worse than we were, and if they were, someone probably made a documentary about them.
I remember that I used to be so sad when Christmas was over. I used to think, how am I possibly going to make it all the way to my birthday in September without getting another giant pile of stuff that’s not as big as it should be? I used to look at the lights and decorations and feel like their cheer was mocking me. How could everything still be glowing when everything that made Christmas Christmas was over?
Christmas is very different now. I rarely give anyone anything. I rarely get anything. People are mostly too broke, and if they’re not broke, they’re paying for a lot of stuff that will eventually make them broke. Christmas lights, my sometime enemy, are now the only thing that makes me feel like it’s Christmas. And they’re the opposite of a disappointment. They are more than enough.