This is Life, Based on a True Story  

Christmas gifts are overrated

For my last column of 2016, I decided to have some fun and ask people to reminisce on Christmases past and their favourite memories of gifts received when they were wee children.

I laughed, I remembered, and then I wrote this column – and yes, I learned a lesson too.

Remember getting the thick Sears catalogue before Christmas? My mom would bring it home and my brothers and I would spend hours going through it.

We’d circle all the things we wanted and then dog-ear that page in case our parents had a hard time finding it.

I’d go to bed all the nights leading up to Christmas with visions of waking up to mountains of goodies under the tree.

Those visions never quite played out though because my mom had other visions of what she was getting us for Christmas - and none of them came from the Sears catalogue.

Most of the Christmas gifts came from the local Saan store or sometimes Wool-co.

But my, how times have changed. I can now sit in front of the computer and with a few clicks, order everything my kids, family, friends and I desire … and even things we don’t desire, but think we do.

My kids are slightly more advanced in their wishes than I was.

Topping many lists this year - a watch. But not just any watch. An Apple watch, a computer on your wrist.

And I thought my Swatch Watch from the '90s was cool because I could switch the wristband and mix up the colours.

But what about the days of yore, before computers and electronic games? Back when people would only receive one or two gifts?

Talking to people who are the same age as my parents, a few of their favourite things included a train set, cowboy stuff and pellet guns, toy cars and planes. And who could forget the classic red Radio Flyer wagon.

Games that we know and love today, like tiddlywinks made its debut and my favourite, the electric phonograph with records of nursery rhymes.

My generation, the 40-somethings and up, had the best memories – that may be based a bit on bias, but c’mon, remember the Chatty Cathy and Wendy Walker dolls – you could comb their hair.

The ever popular and highly coveted Viewmaster, Spirograph and Moon shoes also made the list for this generation – and someone let Santa know I’m still waiting for my moon shoes.

And who can forget the Easy-Bake oven? Or walkie-talkies and Walkmans?

The biggest challenge with those gifts was the look of blame parents exchanged on Christmas morning when they realized no one had bought batteries to operate these new fandangled contraptions.

Atari and Coleco also made their debut. Remember Pac Man? Arguably the best video game ever. Frogger was a close second.

These two games set the stage for gamers everywhere. If you could beat Pac Man, you were automatically elevated to free pizza status at your local diner.

One of the more endearing stories was told by the youngest 92-year old I’ve ever met.

She told me her parents were very poor farmers and one year was a particularly bad year for her dad’s crops.

Her parents were so poor, they could only afford one pair of mittens for her and her brother.   

So each day, they would each put on one mitt and tuck their other hand into their pocket or jacket sleeve for the trek to school – which was at least 40 kilometres uphill both ways in waist-high snow.

OK, that last part may be a bit of an exaggeration. But the mitten story is true apparently. My sweet friend told me how one Christmas when there was no expectation of any gifts, she and her brother were both surprised when her parents presented them each with two gifts.

They each received a maple candy stick from the local confectioners. But, they also each received a new pair of mittens that were knitted by their mother with yarn bought from that same confectioner’s store.

Knowing her parents did whatever they could to give her and brother something to open on Christmas morning made her understand the love behind the gift, then the actual gift itself.

So somehow, even though I wanted this to be more of a fun column, it always turns into some sort of lesson – usually for me.

This year, I was caught up in the crowds at the mall wandering aimlessly through the throngs with a glazed look in my eyes just searching and searching for that perfect gift for everyone on my list.

When I couldn’t, wouldn’t, didn’t and wasn’t finding what I was looking for, I left the mall, sold my parking spot for a Starbucks salted caramel mocha and went home.

I then told everyone depending on me for a gift that the money I was planning to spend on them would now go to my favourite local charity.

And guess what? No one cared. No one had a tantrum over the lack of a Christmas gift they would’ve felt obligated to love, all for the sake of a good Facebook photo.

All anyone said they wanted was time with each other and some good food. The rest was just fluff.

And that was my realization – after all these years of worrying and planning and spending. The truth was right here in front of me. It’s not about what we spend or the number of gifts under the tree.

It’s truly, really about the thought and love and time we give each other.

And so, to each and every one of you reading this (I’m hoping I’ve got at least a dozen), may the spirit of this season be with you.

Whether that translates into vast quantities of gifts under your tree or a dysfunctional family gathering, I only wish that you find and feel the spirit to take with you and make you smile … whether you spike your coffee with Bailey’s or not.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Season’s Greetings, and if I missed something – may you have a wonderful and peaceful holiday season. Till we meet again in 2017.

Thanks for reading.


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About the Author

Tanya Gunderson has been writing for the heck of it for many years. Her inspiration comes from her kids, their friends and the craziness of life. She takes great pleasure in exposing life for what it really is and has an open-book approach to her writing.

Her formal education and background include a blink-and-you miss-it stint in the radio and television industry, but it gave her an opportunity to write professionally on a few different occasions.

Email: [email protected]



The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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