By tatiana de la tierra
All I wanted for Christmas was … Nothing. In this age of Too Many Things, I fantasize about being sparse—having just what I need, without all the excess. My reality is bulging drawers, handsome collections of rocks, books, record albums, goddesses, art-like objects, and loads of useful and useless doodads.
So when my mom asked me what I wanted for Christmas I answered with a resounding “Nothing!”, knowing it would be nearly impossible for her to fulfill this wish. My mom loves to give presents. She marches into the mall with the mission of a seasoned shopper who falls into a trance and transforms into an eight-armed octopus, sensing and selecting multiple presents for her friends and family. She gives too much. Not one or two blouses but seven or eight. Not just one sparkly doodad but four or five.
I got the gift-giving gene from my mom. For years, I got into the mall trance, touching and probing until I found the right objects for the right people. But I rarely do malls any more, and I’m not keen on all the Made-in-China stuff. The gene has worn off. I’m tired of Stuff. I don’t want to participate in mainstream robotic rites. My not-so-philanthropic philosophy is perfect for this holiday season when I’m stuck in California while my family is celebrating in Florida and Cartagena.
The medium-sized flat-rate Priority Mail box arrived a few days before Christmas. I figured my mom had packed a ton of very small lightweight things—gold rings, silk scarves, a few CDs, cashmere, maybe some tiny work of art. But when I opened it, there were only two presents.
I couldn’t believe it. Did she no longer love me? Did I really want “Nothing”? If I was so opposed to commercialized Christmas spirit, why was I so perturbed at the reality of not getting a ton of potentially useless presents? How shallow was I, anyway?
Given that I’m so anti-holiday, I don’t know why I got the pine wreath at Trader Joe’s and promptly affixed it to my front door. Or why, at the last minute, I bought presents for everyone in Florida and sent the box overnight. Or why I accepted my neighbors’ invitation for their Christmas Eve celebration.
The living room was lit with tons of candles and packed with Christmas decorations. Reindeer, wreaths, ornaments, flickering lights, elves, bells, and a real Christmas tree with presents were arranged in the room with orange walls, artwork and tons of doodads, including a big Buddha surrounded by red candles. We ate, drank, drummed, and sang Christmas carols in Spanish, English, and German.
Just after midnight, we stood in a circle and held hands. There were fifteen of us from all over the world—Austria, Mexico, Colombia, Japan, France, the U.S., and Cambodia. When we went around the circle, each of us saying something that we were grateful for, the top declarations were family, friends, lovers, and life itself. Then we lit the candles on the tree and exchanged gifts. It all seemed so simple and meaningful, not so cynical and excessive after all.
The next morning, my mom’s two presents awaited me. So did an envelope that one my sisters sent me. Thanks for the Kindle, Mom, and for the dough, and for making me assess my own materialistic dogma. Thanks to Wally and Alfredo, my neighbors who innocently created some sort of organic holiday cheer.
And after opening that envelope, I give thanks to my niece, Bella, who sent me a collection of her short stories. While we are worlds apart, I got a good laugh from a few of her stories this Christmas. Here is one to share with the world, lightly edited, to spread the holiday spirit, while I’m still in the mood.
EMMA’S CURSED PURSE
BY ISABELLA SIMONS
Emma was in Paris shopping for her birthday. She walked into a mysterious boutique. She saw a pretty, shiny pink purse.
When she went to pay, an old lady said, “Don’t you buy that purse! There’s a purse curse on it, and you’ll have terrible luck.”
Emma rolled her eyes and bought the purse. “My new purse, finally!!” she squealed with delight. She walked out the door and an alarm went off.
“Get back in here, you haven’t paid!!!” the manager yelled.
Emma went back in. She had thrown the receipt away. After what seemed like an hour of digging in the trash she finally had her receipt and her manicure was ruined. “Ugh! I’ll have to go get a manicure AGAIN!!!!” she huffed furiously. She stormed out, unconvinced her new purse was cursed.
When her nails were done the stylist had left a pink blob of nail polish on her middle finger. “GRRR…” Emma screeched furiously. She felt like flipping her stylist over.
She stormed out into the pouring rain. Her new shirt was ruined.
She was so frustrated that she ran back to the store to return the wretched purse.
When she got home, her dad had just arrived. “Happy birthday!” he said and hugged her, as he handed her a present. It was a new purse. It looked identical to the one she had bought earlier.
She went outside. It stopped raining. Her manicure was now perfect, her shirt good as new and dry.
“They told me only two of these were made. One was a good luck charm, one cursed,” said her dad.
“Silly story,” Emma replied. “Absolutely impossible.”