My parents have always been committed to getting us some kind of “stuff” to open on Christmas morning. That stuff always includes books, the vast majority of which I benefit greatly from. But that stuff also always includes some kind of wacky toy; something with a creative and/or competitive bent. For example, this year my dad gave us this battle-track kit where we could build our own combination of tracks and platforms to run these tiny bug-like robots around in a random fashion, until they knock each other down. Yes, it was pointless and a little juvenile, except for the creativity that went into the set-up and competition as my brother and I worked out the possibilities.
It seems there are two types of Christmases: a materialist Christmas, and an existentialist Christmas. Although philosophical materialism should not be confused with consumerism, the two are most certainly linked. One is a belief that matter is all that exists. The other is a belief that acquiring matter for oneself is the most important thing. Or in the case of Christmas, acquiring matter for your loved ones.
Existentialists, on the other hand, put a heavy focus on the human experience. Some may believe that matter does not exist at all, and that we have merely fabricated it as a useful concept to serve our experience. Others simply give it a back seat. And we can easily recognize these people at Christmastime as well. If my dad were a materialist, his big gifts would have impressed us by their price tag, or their utility. Instead, he chose to give us an experience: time together, doing something creative and collaborative.
And it seems our Christmases have become more and more that way. For the last two years we’ve built gingerbread houses together as a family. This year the women built the house and the men built a gingerbread train. The house looked better. The day before that we baked cookies and decorated them. (I somehow ended up with a Rambo Angel and a Baby-Jesus-in-a-car-seat.) The day before that we went downtown to see the model train exhibit at Union Station, and the gingerbread village at Crown Center (for inspiration, no doubt.)
I used to wonder at the idea of spending money on experience: on meals, on entertainment, etc. You do it and then it’s gone forever. But now I’m re-thinking this. Yes, I still recognize how easy it is to waste money this way. But if it’s done in moderation and with relationship in mind, it seems far better to me to go after the experience than the material. I suppose that makes me an existentialist of sorts. I’ve decided that it’s the matter that is vapor, and the experience (the relationship) that is lasting. What we do with the people we love makes us who we are, in a permanent way.
Much more permanent than 99% of the gifts you ever got for Christmas. Admit it.