Every Christmas mom would try to sneak things I “needed” under the tree. She started small—socks with pompoms, high-waisted underwear and headbands that squeezed my brain like forceps. “I really needed these,” I’d say politely before I tossed the useful yet unwanted items to the side and reached for what I hoped would be the Snoopy Sno-Cone maker that I had to have and would later use all of once before I realized that shaving ice with a cheese grater was neither fun nor fulfilling. As I grew older, the gifts mom thought I “needed” grew in size and scope. A warm coat. A clock radio. A set of encyclopedias. I tolerated receiving these items—after all, I always used them. And then one day, right around the 5th grade, it happened. I suddenly liked the boy I had kicked in the crotch the week prior, I started wearing deodorant, and something practical finally topped my Christmas list. I was growing up.
I remember wanting a pair of boots—these adorable brown leather ankle boots with heavy soles and wool lining peeking out from the tops. I didn’t merely want them; I needed them.
On Christmas morning, I feverishly tore through every box that looked as if it could hold those boots, my disappointment growing with every pair of high-waisted panties. Soon all the presents were open and I sat there, bootless and broken. And then my mom said, “Oh, it looks like we forgot a present!”
From behind the chair she lifted a box that could only be my beloved boots. I chicken-danced around the room in my new shoes until I almost passed out and didn’t take them off until the 6th grade.
As I got older, I found myself missing that spontaneous urge to launch into the chicken-dance of joy at Christmas. I was always delighted by the thoughtful gifts I received, but I hadn’t felt that spastic surge of utter fulfillment from any one gift in a long while. I began to worry that the magic of gifting was losing its luster.
Then, a couple of weeks ago, my parents flew across the country to share an early Christmas with my family. As we sat around the tree and exchanged gifts, I enviously watched my 6-year-old daughter rip through each present, breathlessly proclaiming to her grandparents, “It’s just what I wanted!” over and over again. We laughed at her excitement and delighted in her joy over getting the things she wanted, but didn’t need.
And that’s when it hit me: I have everything I’ve ever wanted. I have everything I need.
The chicken-dance may have gone the way of the Snoopy Sno-Cone maker, but there’s no real loss. When we are young, we simply want things—a big wheel, Stretch Armstrong, the crayon some other kid is holding—and then we get older and start to determine the things we actually need, like food, family, high-waisted underwear … and one day, if you’re really lucky, you wake up and realize that you’re healthy, surrounded by a loving family, have a roof over your head and a couple of pairs of decent boots in your closet. No one boxed-and-bowed item could elevate your existence any more; your cup already runneth over.
Growing older didn’t tarnish the magic of Christmas; it made it shine even brighter.