Dec 28, 2011

Crdl Christmas

Or The Year I Grew Up

The Crdl.  The Must-Have Christmas Gift of 1988. .. or so I was told.

When I was fifteen years old, Christmas as I knew it came to an end.  With it, came the end of my childhood and the beginning of a new, grown-up experience of what makes the Christmas season special.

Up until that fateful year, the kids in our family—the three Saliba cousins, Nabih, William, and Yvette, the pair of Thomson cousins Nicole and Landon, and my brother, sister and me—received a mountain of presents each Christmas. Every member of our immediate and extended family bought presents for everyone else and the result was a cornucopia, a jackpot of gifts heaped in a gratuitous mound that spread from underneath the tree half-way across the living room.

This particular year, for various grown-up reasons that the decision was made that it was time to dial down the gift giving.  I was always under the impression that grandma, the family’s fearsome Matriarch had decided that the holiday excess had become absurd, and that it was time we had a more reasonable spread beneath the tree.  In any case, for the first time we drew names, and the word went forth:  This year there would only be one Christmas gift per person.

It seemed like heresy, this idea that we would come away with exactly one present for the entire Christmas (though in truth, I think most of the families exchanged a few more privately.  I know we did.  I received the very nice coffee table book A Day in the Life of America, something I’d wanted for quite some time).  But the decision had been made and no allowance was made for appeal.

That year’s Christmas was unusual in a number of other ways.  First of all, we traveled for the holiday.  Traditionally the Salibas came to us, in Florida, where the rest of the Thomson clan lived.  They escaped the frigid Michigan winter for a little bit, and we all went to Disney World and had a grand time.  But this year we all made the trek north to Berrien Springs.  We kids were excited by the road trip and the chance to have an actual white Christmas for a change.

Another difference was that we opened presents in the afternoon, rather than in the morning, which meant an especially agonizing wait for the kids.  The reason for the delay was that my Uncle Sy and Aunt Patsy were returning from a trip to southeast Asia Christmas morning.  I remember their arrival late that morning and assuming that surely the first thing on their agenda would be to tackle our meager collection under the tree.   Instead they wanted to shower and change.  Then they wanted to eat.  Then there were interminable stories of their trip and home video to go along with the stories.  The afternoon seemed to drag on forever!  How could they be so cavalier about something so important as presents?  How could they bear to wait so long.

Had I known what was waiting for me under that tree I might have relaxed and enjoyed the afternoon a little more.

Ever since we’d arrived in Michigan, there’d been a running joke among the family. Someone would pose a question, with exaggerated gravity:  “What do you want for Christmas?”  The equally solemn response was: “More than anything in the whole world, I want a crdl.”  This would be followed by gales of laughter.  The crdl (prounounced “criddle”) was the object of much professed longing and the subject of much hilarity among my family.  I couldn’t figure out what this crdl was or why it was so desirable (and so funny).   After a while I began to pretend that I had figured out what a crdl was, and that I also wanted one more than anything, and this for some reason produced even more mirth among my family members.  Still I felt that this was a family inside joke that I’d somehow been left out of.

Until that Christmas afternoon anyway.  When at last we gathered around the Christmas tree, and each of us received our gift, I peeled back the wrapping paper to discover that my cousin William had given me. . . . a crdl.  The fabled crdl was a large magnet encased in a black plastic platform.  The platform contained a mound of shiny metal chips which could be shaped into various abstract sculptures.  You could even brush all the chips off the platform and onto the floor or-- even a table!-- and then use the platform to magically and magnetically swoop all the pieces back up.  It could serve suitably as a unique paperweight or desk ornament—just the sort of thing a business executive or sales rep might fiddle with while talking on the phone.  In other words, the crdl was pretty much boring and useless, particularly for a fifteen year old boy.

I did my best to hide my disappointment (which was particularly crushing since this was my only present for the day), and gamely had a laugh at my own expense.  I suppose it could have been worse, I told myself.  I could have gotten the automatic phone dialer my cousin Nabih received (though really even that was probably more useful than the crdl).

For years afterwards the Crdl Christmas served as a holiday low-light for me, on record as one of the worst Christmases ever.  But recently as I prepared to tell the tale of the Crdl Christmas for the chidlren’s story at church, I came to realize that perhaps that Christmas was more significant than I’d realized.  The Christmas of the Crdl was the year that I grew up—it was the dividing point between when Christmas had been all about the presents and when Christmas became all about the people.  Before the Crdl Christmas, presents had been what I anticapted most at Christmastime.  After the Crdl Christmas,  spending time with people I love came to be what I looked forward to most.    

I’ve come to understand that if the Crdl Christmas was the worst one on record then I’m extraordinarily blessed.   Each Christmas that I’ve been able to spend in good health, with all my needs and many of my wants provided for,  that I’ve been able to gather with people I love, every holiday that I’ve been able to look upon with gratitude for the grace of God, is indeed among the most wonderful times of the year.  Each year that I have the luxury of disappointment over a gift that somewhat missed the mark, I have reason to rejoice.

I spent Christmas 2011 with the in-laws, and then on Monday, December 26, Babs, the Feller and I flew out to Oregon to spend a week with Carol Paez and her family.  Already, I’ve had a great week of vacation spending special time with my son.   I find I barely think at all about what I’ll get for Christmas this year. The real gift is in those gathered around the tree, not in what’s underneath it.
All grown-up now. From Left to Right: My sister Dawn with her son, me, Kyle Koenigshof (my cousin Nicole's husband), Nicole Thomson Koenigshof all gathered around the tree at my Uncle Robert and Aunt Diana's house last Christmas 2010. 

Gathered around the tree this Christmas.  With Mom Leen at the Leens, Sunday, December 25, 2011

These two are all the Christmas presents I need! (Babs and the Feller making Christmas cookies at home.  December 20, 2011)

As children we believed
The grandest sight to see
Was something lovely
Wrapped beneath our tree.

Well Heaven surely knows
That packages and bows
Can never heal
A hurting human soul

No more lives torn apart
That wars would never start
And time would heal all hearts
And everyone would have a friend

And right would always win
And love would never end
This is my grown up Christmas list

                --“Grown Up Christmas List”, as sung by Amy Grant

While this grown-up doesn't care too much about presents anymore, I'm not gonna lie:  I got the best Christmas present EVER from my wife this year!   Check it out:

The Samsung Galaxy SII

1 comment:

Mai said...

In the past several years, I've actually come to loathe the presents part of Christmas because it just seems so greedy and selfish. It's definitely all about the people for me (and getting a break from school!!).

ps. your PS made me chuckle!! You've joined the android world, eh? I just joined the iPhone world last month! I resisted for so long, but I'm really enjoying it now.