A Fundamental Truth on Christmas, 1996
I learned a fundamental truth about myself around Christmas in 1996.
That was the year that I convinced my dad to let me get a PlayStation for Christmas. The video game console had been out for a while, so I was late to the party. But it was fine because the most up-to-date system I owned was a Super Nintendo, which was outdated.
It worked. He agreed. We went to the video game store the weekend before Christmas and he bought me the PlayStation, along with a couple of games.
When we came back home, I was excited to try the new console.
“Don’t you want to wait until Christmas morning?” he asked me.
“No,” I replied. “Too excited. Plus I’ll be busy with my other presents.”
Dad got serious and a little worried.
“There aren’t other presents for you on Christmas morning,” he said, carefully. “The PlayStation is it. It’s the monetary equivalent of your usual set of gifts.”
It was true.
For years, my parents had gotten me ten or so random but inexpensive gifts. They’d be scattered around the tree in the morning, some labeled “from mom and dad” and some labeled “from Santa.”
Sometimes they fulfilled requests, but never anything nearly as expensive as a PlayStation.
I cried and cried. Christmas was my favorite holiday and there was an intense enjoy in ripping open my presents. My parents were good at balance; some gifts would be things I indicated wanting and some were gifts my parents rightfully assumed I would like but that I hadn’t considered myself. And really, aren’t those the greatest presents?
“You’ve got a choice,” my dad told me. “I can return the PlayStation and get you your regular gifts, or you can keep the PlayStation but that’s all you get.”
I thought about it hard that night. And the next day at school.
The thought of Christmas morning without ripping open gifts was sad, but also, I had done the impossible and convinced my dad to buy me a PlayStation.
I asked my friends what they would do. All of them said they’d take the PlayStation.
“Who cares about one Christmas morning traditions?” a friend of mine shouted. “It’s a PlayStation!”
A rational thought. But I wasn’t rational. I was romantic and sentimental.
I told my dad to return the PlayStation and that I wanted a normal Christmas.
Sure enough, on Christmas, the tree was filled with inexpensive but thoughtful gifts. Every time I opened a bigger one, I half expected to see a PlayStation. I fantasized that my dad was bluffing, that it was too annoying at this point to take back. That he’d cave and let me have my cake and eat it too.
He didn’t. And there was a part of my 11 year old heart that felt wistful.
But I learned something important that Christmas. Which is that I valued tradition and familiarity on one special day more than having a PlayStation all year long.
I learned that I am not rational.
I learned that irrationality is a function of sentimentality.
I learned that my happiness is not always congruent with other people’s happiness.
And I learned to be okay with that.