By Christopher Nyerges
When I was around 10, my four brothers and I were particularly bad, belligerent, and misbehaving one autumn.
My mother gave us several warning and threats and a few “beatings” in her ceaseless attempt to get us to obey – all to no avail.
So, my mother said, “Keep it up and there will be no Christmas this year.” Of course, she meant “no gifts.” At first, the threat did affect our behavior, but then we went back to our malfeasant ways. As November rolled into December, there were more threats, but our behavior didn’t substantially improve.
By mid-December, the word was out: No Christmas this year. “Oh, we don’t care,” we sassed, but inwardly I believe we each felt dismay at our inability to live up to our household’s very simple standards.
I felt particularly dismayed that I had been no better than my brothers. Looking back, I think our bad behavior that year was likely the trickle-down defiance from our eldest brother. The second-eldest was never a defier, certainly not openly, but the defiance of the eldest would have trickled down to each of us, finally to me, the youngest.
The result: No Christmas.
“She won’t follow through on it,” Thomas, the middle brother, told us with assurance. But inwardly, I felt my mother had to follow through, otherwise her word would mean little to us, and she’d gain little by “being nice.” I don’t recall what my father had to say about this, but it wasn’t much.
Sure enough, Christmas came, and we went glumly into the living room to a fire and the usual Christmas tree, but no gifts, nor any of the festivity that surrounds the exchanging of gifts. We went to church and we talked with our schoolmates. When they talked about what they got for Christmas, we found ways to change the subject. We had a quiet Christmas dinner that year.
One of my brothers told his friends that my mother was mean, but I didn’t believe she was being mean. I knew we deserved nothing, and I felt a certain euphoric sense of justice in her actions, and I respected her more because of it. In some ways, I felt closer to my mother after that, was more obedient because I simply felt better doing what was expected of me.
But the story about my mean mother gradually got out into the neighborhood, and my mother became the topic of conversations, mostly criticizing her. I would listen to people talking about my mother and I realized they saw only the “no gifts” side of the story. I realized that for them, the meaning of Christmas, the sole focus, was on the acquisition of things. In contrast, my Christmas of no gifts allowed me the rare opportunity to try and experience the meaning of Christmas without the over-focus on material things.
Despite a seeming lack, it was actually one of the best Christmases ever, where I received the most fitting possible “gift” – the ability to quickly experience that my choices and actions have consequences.
Christopher Nyerges is the author of “How to Survive Anywhere,” “Self-Sufficient Home,” and other books. His blog can be read at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com. He can be contacted via his site or Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041
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