What Did you Get? by Ellen Jensen Abbott

“What did you get?” As a kid, that was the question I asked and was asked beginning around 11 AM on Christmas morning as I got on the phone with friends to compare hauls. Sure, I liked the giving, too. It was exciting to see family members open gifts from me and smile—sometimes the smile was bemused. But when talking to my peer group, it was all about “What did you get?”

So, in the spirit of “what did you get,” but hopefully tempered with a little, ahem, maturity, here is a list of a few things I got this Christmas season:

  • My son, in the middle of a gap year we feared would stretch into several, applied to college. 
  • My daughter, home from boarding school, brought a friend from Germany and a friend from Palestine home for part of the vacation, reminding us of the world beyond our small suburban town.
  • My mother-in-law, in a nursing home, received a super soft, beautiful blanket from her secret Santa and her face just lit up when she opened it.
  • Good friends joined us for Christmas dinner, the first year that we did not have either my mother- or father-in-law with us for the holidays , and made the evening very merry. 
  •  Although I have stacks of Othello research papers moldering in my back-pack waiting to be graded, I have actually taken time off this vacation to be with family, read, knit, run, walk the dogs, ski, stare at the Christmas tree, and watch the Harry Potter marathon on ABC Family.
  • Our family skied for three days at Hunter Mountain in NY with dear friends, one of whom can recite world cup skiing winners, male and female, for the past 20 years. Skiing with this guy is JOY.
  • Each morning for breakfast I’ve eaten a cinnamon bun made using the recipe my mother always used when we were growing up. 
  • I received a Christmas card from a former professor I thought I had lost touch with.

Okay, I also got some stuff (a cool sweater from the Loft, a ski-boot bag, a super cozy infinity scarf) but these other things—gifts of time and relationship and family—are a bigger part of the holidays than what’s under the tree. I know, it’s a cliché—but it’s true. And it’s been nice to be reminded of this Christmas truism in such specific ways.


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