Christmas and birthday are inextricably linked for me. My birthday is Christmas and Christmas is my birthday. I always get questions about whether I was “ripped off” as a kid. You know, because of the gift label that said “Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday”, and the gift wrapped in red and green paper with dancing Santas all over it.
I always thought that was an interesting question that revealed either the bias of the questioner or that the questioner suspected I had a bias: that birthdays and Christmases are about gifts. Receiving gifts.
Separating Birthday from Christmas
My first answer is that no, I’ve never felt anything but grateful, fortunate, and loved. Really! My family went to great lengths to make sure the birthday gifts were wrapped with birthday paper and the Christmas gifts wrapped with Christmas paper. There was birthday time carved out of a day that was special for all of us.
We experimented with holding a birthday party on June 25, because it was six months from my actual birthday, and on January 28, my maternal grandmothers’ birthday, and – heaven forbid – on March 4th, my sister’s birthday. But we all realized that trying to celebrate on any day other than my actual birthday just made me feel like a fraud. And it imposed on the other person’s special day. So, December 25th it was. Birthday gift-opening time was separate from Christmas gift-opening time. That meant birthday gifts after Christmas dinner… or immediately after Christmas gift-opening when I couldn’t wait.
Time with Family, Friends
The second answer is also no, I’ve never felt anything but grateful, fortunate and loved. It’s typical to spend Christmas with the people you love, right? So my birthday tends to see me spending time with people I love, with people I may not otherwise see much of. I’ve travelled cross-country to spend Christmases with my Dad and his wife, my Mom and her partner when she was still alive, and with my sister and her husband. When living on the other side of the continent from my family, I’ve had the opportunity to share Christmas birthdays with friends who also were away from their families… and we created new family experiences.
Oh, the Gifts
It’s true there was a big chunk of my life where the gifts were central to my experience of both days. And I’ve been on both giving and receiving ends of some pretty spectacular gift exchanges. Like the mind-blown kind. And they were fun, no question about it. It isn’t really the gift that made the difference: it was that people went out of their way to get something to blow my mind. And while I really appreciated the wonderful gifts over the years, I’ve entered a new phase.
Physical gifts purchased with cash play a negligible role in my world today. And it started with my husband John. When we first met, he was just out of an abusive relationship. His ex-wife had been emotionally and psychologically abusive and part of the damage was John’s paralysis over choosing a gift.
When Giving Goes Bad
There was an experience he shared with me of one Christmas, where his gift of a hand-crafted artisan cutting board was met with histrionics: screaming, yelling, and throwing the gift and the wrapping paper outside in the snow. That Christmas ruined for John and his young daughters, and John’s gift-buying experience forever damaged. I realized the extent of the impact on John when, a few months after we began living together, I sent John to the corner store for a jar of mayonnaise. The corner store was literally across the street, less than a twenty-second walk. He was gone nearly half an hour.
“What happened?”, I asked, worried that he’d hurt himself somehow, or witnessed an accident, or a shooting. This was Dufferin and College in downtown Toronto, after all. But it was nothing like that.
“I didn’t want to bring the wrong mayonnaise back. I couldn’t decide….” John said. Looking embarrassed and defeated at the same time.
I knew then that I didn’t ever want to be party to that kind of pressure. I didn’t want to receive wrapped gifts so badly that I’d force the love of my life through a kind of torture. He needed to heal from a destructive relationship and I needed something to show me there were things more important than gifts.
I used the term ‘wrapped gifts’ on purpose. Because John is one of the most giving people I’ve ever met. He cooks for me, cleans probably more than his share, rubs my feet and my back most mornings and most nights, makes me coffee. He considers me in everything he does and that we do, he laughs at me and with me. Being with him is one gigantic gift.
So my birthday Christmases are now more of a big picture experience: expressing gratitude for the extraordinary life I lead in partnership with an extraordinary man. Having a grown-up son who makes me proud. It’s not about material things. It’s about living in awe of the sunlight dancing on the slate-blue ocean under the powdery blanket of the baby blue sky. It’s about being grateful for all that the universe has shown me, shared with me, and being good in the world in a way that sends positivity out into it. Our world today needs more positivity, more gratitude, more peace.
I didn’t mean to get so serious with this blog, but it just sorta came out. Let’s end on a lighthearted note, so we can all get back to enjoying this Christmas season.
Oh, You’re a Christmas Baby!
Whenever I have to tell some official in some bureaucratic office my birthday, it always elicits a response. “Oh! You’re a Christmas baby!” Yup. Christmas is birthday for me, Jesus Christ, Isaac Newton, Humphrey Bogart, Annie Lennox and Sissy Spacek. And Lynda Steele, my former colleague from ITV News in Edmonton, now host of a rockin’ talk radio show on CKNW in Vancouver. And two of the three sons of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Canada’s former Prime Minister. All very special people :-)) So, yes, Justin Trudeau and I share the same birthday. (And my husband John shares a birthday with Justin’s father, former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.)
So Christmas is birthday and birthday is Christmas. I feel blessed and amazed at the awesomeness in the world. It’s there, we just need to know how to look for it. Hint: it doesn’t come from the mall.