[The following column was printed in The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, North Dakota’s largest daily newspaper, on December 28, 2010. Reprinted with permission.]
The scene will be led by heaps of crushed boxes and twist-ties mangled together in preparation for trips to the landfill. It will include kitchens displaying whole plates of goodies diminished to crumbs and a few pieces of uneaten fruitcake.
Among it all will be the humans enveloped in a daze of indulgence. Even the smallest children will feel the letdown, knowing on some level the glitter and merriment that came before was something of a setup.
Anticipating this, I recall a documentary I watched at the Fargo Theatre a couple years ago. “God Grew Tired of Us: The Story of Lost Boys of Sudan” includes a scene on Christmas morning in which a lively song of praise has broken out at a refugee camp.
Ever since witnessing this uninhibited celebration of Jesus’ birth by those with little more than a song to offer, I’ve been seeking the same kind of Christmas joy.
And this, rather than the wasteland of excess, is the visual I’d like to impart to my children.
As a young teen, I’d erroneously determined that Christmas and accumulation went hand in hand. Counting presents, taking stock of who’d garnered the most, was common. Then one year, I was struck by the emptiness of it all.
Somehow, I’d missed the important lesson my parents had been trying to impart; that simplicity creates meaning in a way extravagance cannot.
As young girls, whenever my sister and I would pine over our neighbors’ yards filled with millions of Christmas lights, Mom would gently remind us of the electricity bill to follow while Dad would comment on his preference for less flash.
Boring, I thought then, but now I crave the same.
I yearn for the pure elation I witnessed on the faces of the Sudanese as they allowed themselves to embrace the most precious gift of all: life itself. It seems the more I reach for simplicity and deny indulgence, the more easily I, too, can accept this gift.
Perhaps it’s not too late to change the scene from wasteland to something more meaningful.
My 5-year-old seems to have figured it out already. Last week after school, he dropped a gift into my lap. It came wrapped in a brown paper bag and was tied with a handmade ornament and plain green ribbon. Even before peeking inside, I’ve already claimed the treasure.
To that end, my New Year’s resolutions will include a more earnest attempt to go simpler in order to become richer. If I’m even partially successful, my children will be among the beneficiaries.
Roxane B. Salonen works as a freelance writer and children’s author in Fargo, where she and her husband, Troy, parent five children.