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From The Trenches
Issue: 36-6


Christmas expectations and Christmas realities

'Tis the season. The season in which we wonder what kooky present Aunt Mildred will come up with. (Just what I always wanted�a knitted scarf that would comfortably wrap around the Himalayas.) The season in which we wonder what kids want these days. (Will they only play with Legos if they can build an iPhone out of them?)

The season in which we secretly experience what I call hathos. The opposite of pathos, hathos is that harmless distaste we feel for those annoyingly well-organized people who smugly announce that their Christmas shopping is done in July and who have their tree up and decorated in time for Halloween.

They�re the people you love in the spring for organizing the neighborhood Easter egg hunt and admire in the summer for putting together a barbecue that would feed a Third World country. But by December 1st, you just loathe them. With affection, of course. And in truth, the only thing you loathe is their carefully compiled gift list with meticulous checkmarks by all the names.

But if you, like I, think it�s tough to find the perfect presents for Aunt Mildred (you can�t regift that scarf back to her) or your spouse (hint: no appliances and no cooking gear) or your siblings (you can�t give them slippers every year), think how tough they have it.

They�re buying for a collector. That has got to be the most daunting gift-giving proposition of all. Your tastes and preferences are well honed�and completely mysterious to the noncollector. Your interests are well understood by you but an enigma to others. And your collection? You know exactly where the holes are in it and what upgrades you desire, but your loved ones are faced with nearly inevitable failure should they try to suss that out on their own.

With that in mind, we�ve put together some affordable gift suggestions for your noncollecting family and friends in this issue. If you agree with any of the suggestions, you can always go the subtle route by circling appropriate selections with a red marker and leaving it open on that page in a spot that only a blind squirrel could miss.

But enough about gifts, for that is not, as we all know, what Christmas is really about. Even when I was a child, it�s not what Christmas was all about. No, it was about the anticipation of gifts.

I was one of those irritating kids who let the gift-wrapped presents pile up in front of me. While everyone else was tearing into presents with a combination of glee and greed and surprised delight, there I sat with unopened gifts, feeling that warm glow of expectation.

I�m not saying the expectation was always better than the reality. There was the year I got my beloved battery-operated choo-choo train and proceeded to send it on its appointed rounds, chipping the paint off every baseboard in the house. What cheerfully destructive fun.

As an adult, there was the Christmas I opened a box to find a Model 1915 Prussian j�ger zu pferde helmet�granted, not a gift that every gal wants, but I was thrilled.

On reflection, I�ve scored some terrific swag over the years, resistant as I was to even opening anything. I�m abashed to admit that I still do that. Last year when the pile of unopened stuff in front of me had assumed alarming proportions, the publisher said in exasperation, "Seriously? Will you just open something?"

The Christmas booty itself has always been secondary to the anticipation of what it might be�sort of the ghost of Christmas Future.

I�m equally fond of the ghost of Christmas Past, and my happiest holiday memories don�t have anything to do with what went right. No, they�re all about what went magnificently wrong.

Like the Christmas my mother, a world-class pie baker, forgot to put sugar in the key lime pie. It was like eating alum, and as the rest of us dissolved in helpless laughter, one well-brought-up guest soldiered on as though nothing was wrong: "Thith ith weally egthellent pie."

Like the year my sister got up before anyone else and switched the tags on our presents from Santa because, really, Santa wouldn�t be around to bust her for another year. Santa wisely decided to stay silent on the matter, and all things became horrifyingly clear to my sister within a year or two. I don�t remember that, of course, but I remember the Christmas 25 years later when she confessed to the crime and gave me a vintage replacement doll for the one I was supposed to get.

Like the year my car, packed full of gifts, siezed up on the way to my parents� house and I was rescued by total strangers who saw me safely back home. That may not be an overall fond memory, but it was instructive: It was the year I found out that spending Christmas home alone in one�s jammies and watching old movies is not the delicious experience we annual on-the-roaders tend to imagine it might be.

This year I fully expect to give a number of people a fond holiday memory of things gone wrong. As I write this, plans are under way for me to host 25 people for dinner.

The oven will die. Or I will leave the plastic giblet bag in a turkey. Or I will drop a key lime pie on the floor (intentionally, if I forgot to put sugar in it).

Whatever disaster occurs�"Clean up on aisle five!"�it should keep all of us in stiches for years at the memory of it.

And I, wrapped in Aunt Mildred�s outsize scarf, will laugh along with everyone else because the hilariously haywire is always one of the most welcome ghosts of Christmas Present.

I wish you reflection, anticipation, and an appreciation for all things present on this most hopeful and holy holiday. �Ed.


Nancy Dearing Rossbacher is editor and designer of NSTCW. She can be reached at editor@nstcivilwar.com




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