It takes growing up to discover the true gifts of the holidays.
Published: November 27, 2019
By: Kara Martinez Bachman
I used to think the ultimate holiday gift was a Snoopy Sno-Cone Machine. I not only wanted one, I dreamt of having one. I coveted that little machine, with its image of the “Peanuts” character and its shaved ice topped with syrups.
It was kind of ridiculous for a kid who grew up in New Orleans to be obsessed with this thing. As the sno-ball capital of the world, the city did to the snow cone what it does with most food — it elevated it to new culinary heights. A fine-iced, creamy, exotic-flavored sno-ball in New Orleans doesn’t even resemble the hard, too-chunky, boring-flavored snow cone found in the rest of the world.
Little me, however, would not be deterred. For several years, I asked for the stupid thing, and each time I was denied. Santa was never interested either, despite the fact that snow-ish gifts must have been very much up his alley.
“That thing is garbage,” Mommy and Daddy would say. “What kinda sno-ball could it possibly make?” I had to concede they had a point. “Plus, it’s expensive. And you have to always buy more of the expensive syrups. FOREVER.”
Once I became a parent, I realized it’s not so simple as that. The recipe of parenting doesn’t involve simple math; it requires convoluted computations. It involves weighing things. Measuring things. Sometimes, we parents even feel as if we’re mad scientists: We’re forced to weigh emotional costs, benefits, sacrifices, values, lessons learned. Sometimes the readings on the scale are fuzzy, or the scale isn’t calibrated correctly. Sometimes we make mistakes. Sometimes love has different weights, different measures, unexpected outcomes, and the results are difficult to interpret until we’re fully grown.
For most of my young life, I was angry because my parents never made me feel loved via shaved ice. But instead of spending money on us, they’d focus time and energy on family traditions and things that don’t cost, that don’t require buying extra syrups.
For instance, my mother would make Christmas crafts with us for hours. It’s been 17 years since she died, but each year I still place on my holiday tree a clothespin we turned into a toy soldier when I was a child. I remember her helping me draw on the soldier’s eyes and nose with a felt-tipped pen.
My father would take us to chop down a Christmas tree. Not on a lot, but on someone’s vacant land. It would be ugly and small and look very much like Charlie Brown’s unlovable tree, but I have exciting memories of getting a tree from an actual forest instead of from a tree lot.
There are no toys better than the excitement of getting an ugly tree you waited all year to make pretty with ornaments that you’d made with your mother.
We’d participate in spiritual activities, lighting advent candles, and following advent calendars. Some years, we’d attend Mass every night during Holy Week, wearing simple cotton dresses my mother had spent many hours hand-sewing for each of us. Although I don’t raise my own children in a faith tradition, I still recall those as the best of weeks, since the church was decorated with poinsettias and the air was filled with incense.
No sno-cone syrups could ever fill the air with incense.
I only saw the light when I had kids myself and they asked for ridiculous, expensive things I knew would break or soon get tossed unwanted into the garbage. I understood that gifts are nice, of course, but aren’t the be-all and end-all of the holidays for children.
Holiday love is more about traditions, and sights and sounds, and dotting eyes on a soldier while held in your mother’s arms.