As adults, we tend to see things very differently than we did when we were kids. There are exceptions, of course. I’m almost certain the look on my face when I re-watch an old episode of “X-Men” or “Spider-Man” is the same now as it was when I was a kid. For most things, though, our thinking and our perceptions evolve.
This tends to manifest a lot during the holidays. As kids, we know why we loved Christmas. We got presents. We got over a week off of school. We got to hang out with friends, show off our toys, and eat whatever sugary treats our parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and neighbors put in front of us. What’s not to love?
As adults, it changes considerably and the extent of that change differs from person to person. I know people who tend to see the holidays as a chore as they get older. They rarely look happy or festive. They just look stressed out and constantly complain about how hard it is to find parking at the mall in the weeks after Thanksgiving. Honestly, I feel bad for these people.
For others, Christmas becomes more a formality. It’s like Thanksgiving, but with more decorations, presents, and eggnog. It means having a few days off work and catching up with family, especially if you didn’t get to over Thanksgiving. I can appreciate this too. Most of the people I know tend to see Christmas this way and I think it’s perfectly appropriate.
For me, however, Christmas has taken on a whole new appeal since I became an adult. While I don’t see it with the kind of wide-eyed excitement I did when I was a kid, I still get giddier about it than most people my age. I know this because other people, including close friends and relatives, have told me this directly.
That appeal still took a while to evolve. When I was in college, there was only so much I could do for the holidays. I was flat broke, in debt, and still dependent on my parents for all things festive. For several years, I had to do most of my shopping in the campus mall. While my family and friends never gave me a hard time about it, it did dampen my holiday spirit for a time.
Then, after I graduated, started making my own money, and moved out of my parents’ house, things changed. Suddenly, I could celebrate Christmas in my own unique way. For the first couple years, I didn’t even know what that entailed. Once I got going, though, I learned quickly.
I bought my own Christmas tree. I put it up in mid-November and put way more lights on it than my parents ever did. I started wearing ugly Christmas sweaters and novelty ties. I began shopping for Christmas gifts with more money than a broke college student. They were exciting times, to say the least. In the process, I learned something important about Christmas as an adult.
As a kid, Christmas is all about getting.
As an adult, Christmas is all about giving and giving with heart.
I know that sounds corny. I’m sure that will evoke some groans among those who love complaining about how Christmas has become so commercialized and materialistic. I feel bad for those people too because I couldn’t disagree more.
As kids, it makes sense for Christmas to be about getting stuff. We’re kids. We can’t get our own stuff yet. We can’t work, earn money, and celebrate on our own accord. We’re dependent on our parents and our family. Say what you will about that dynamic, those are the logistics we have to deal with.
Once we become adults, we learn what it means to be part of a community and a family. In that community, we can’t just obsess over getting stuff and not just so we don’t become a villain in a Charles Dickens novel. In the adult world, to get the things we want, be it love or a new iPad, we need to cooperate and connect with one another.
Sometimes it’s with friends.
Sometimes it’s with total strangers.
Sometimes it’s with co-workers, peers, or employers.
One way or another, we have to give ourselves to others in order to get what we want, regardless of what day of the year it might be. That’s what it means to be in a family, a community, and a society. It doesn’t always involve giving something material or wrapped in colorful wrapping paper. More often, it means giving our time, our attention, our affection, and our passion.
It may sound like a chore for some, but it’s very rewarding in amazing ways that science has documented. We are a social species, after all. Socializing, forming bonds, and making others around us happy makes us happy, in turn. Around the holidays, we just add lights, food, family, and festivities to the mix, which tends to amplify the effect.
I can attest to the power of this effect. As an adult, some of my favorite Christmas memories from the reactions I see on the faces of friends and loved ones when they open my gifts. The joy I see when I manage to get them something that they love is a true sight to behold. Given how I take gift-giving more seriously than most people in my family, they know I don’t take it lightly.
Those efforts help make the holidays more rewarding for me and my family. For me, it’s not about getting presents. I still enjoy that part as much as anyone who enjoys getting gifts, but I’ve become more and more fond of the giving part of the holidays. By making it more enjoyable for my loved ones, whether it’s through a gift, a treat, or me wearing a goofy sweater, I get more enjoyment out of it as well.
Maybe my idea of Christmas will evolve again once I meet that special someone and have kids. Until then, I have a clear plan for the many Christmas festivities to come. I’ve already completed my shopping. I’m preparing treats and activities, as well. I intend to give my family everything they’ve come to love and enjoy about Christmas. I may not top the previous year, but I will make that effort. That much, I can promise.