One year near Christmas time, when I was young, my very wonderful babysitter helped us kids (me, my sister, and her own children) make Christmas wish books. They were simple construction paper booklets, into which we glued cut-out pictures of toys from catalogs.
I loved my wish book, and I kept it stashed in my desk drawer for years, long after most of those toys had probably disappeared from store shelves, to be replaced by something newer and flashier. I cannot recall whether or not I actually received anything that was on my list. And the booklet itself is long gone now. But its memory is still quite vivid in my mind.
I’ve been thinking of it quite a lot lately, actually, as the flood of Christmas catalogs enters our mailbox. I’m not much of a shopper, generally, but I am a sucker for the mail-order catalog, with its glossy pages and envy-inducing photographs and clever product descriptions. I’m particularly susceptible to catalogs for educational items, sturdy wooden Montessori tools, and bright rainbow-colored Waldorf toys. I sigh as I flip through Boden and mini-Boden, knowing that even if I could afford those clothes, it would be hard to justify it. Yarn catalogs send me into a frenzy, making lists of skeins I “need” for all those projects I’m going to make . . . someday.
In order to quell these desires, I still make “wish lists,” writing down things that I want to buy for birthdays or holidays or homeschooling or just things I want to buy someday when we can afford it. . . For some reason, it helps me to write these things down, even though half the time I never look at the lists again, and often if I do, I’ll realize that there’s nothing on them that I want anymore.
We’ve made a mistake in letting Adeline look at the catalogs, too. She loves to get mail, so at first it seemed harmless to just let her have them. But she became completely obsessed with them, asking and then begging for all those wonderful toys she thought she absolutely had to have, even prizing the catalog as a possession itself.
And while I’m thinking about it, all this wanting is not limited to things I’d like to purchase. My list of books to read is insanely long; I’ve got mile-long lists of projects I’d like to sew and knit, crafts to do with the kids, blog posts to write, recipes I’d like to try . . . someday.
Now, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with planning for the future. In some ways my lists help me plan and prepare and stay organized. But in other ways they are a burden, a constant reminder of how I am failing, how far behind I am. They are the source and the result of a lot of discontentment in my life. And in this season, more than ever I am striving to model contentment and peacefulness for my children. I’m trying so hard not to over-schedule, to stay focused on the things that matter, not to spend each day frazzled, in a holiday-induced frenzy (FYI: most days I am failing — but I am trying!). I am trying to make this a season of cheerful giving, taking the focus off of “wanting” and “getting.”
But it is not easy for me. Let me re-phrase that: It is hard. Trying to find ways to give small but still meaningful; to give handmade without taxing our time too much; to give to all those we love while staying within the budget. The smallest things are likely to get me off-track in a hurry during the Advent season. Case in point: I almost freaked out the other day because we are completely out of store-bought thank you notes (or stationery of any kind) and I felt like making our own would take up time that we really don’t have and I’d already been to the store and didn’t want to have to make an extra trip just for thank-you notes but I really wanted to get them sent out in a timely manner. And yes, reading that now makes me realize how completely unbalanced my reaction was to that really very ridiculous “problem.”
But to get back to that little subject of contentment: I don’t have all the answers. I know that we are moving slowly in the direction I’d like us to go. One of the simplest things I think we can do is to turn off the noise that is telling us to want so much: turn off the TV, stay out of the mall, unsubscribe to those mail-order catalogs. Perhaps in the future, Christmas for this family will look radically different than it does this year. I don’t want our children to make lists of toys they want Santa to bring them. I want them to make “giving lists” instead, and know the joy of sharing with others. I want them to make lists of blessings they already have. I want them to know that Christmas is not about a man who’ll give you gifts if you’re good, but about the man who gave everything for sinners who could never be good enough.