Last weekend we went to a carol service in our local church. The boys had been drafted in, in order of age as a King, a Shepherd and a Joseph. ‘This is the last time I dress up,’ growled eldest Sensible Son, as he struggled into his gown and crown. ‘Please can I just do a reading next year?’ I looked at his too-long legs sticking out of his too-short ‘dress’ and had to agree that he had a point.
Anyway. There was I, gazing in amused adoration, as Mary and Joseph marched up the aisle, overtaken by an errant 15 month old angel, when something the Vicar said made me sit up and listen.
Her child-friendly sermon had started out predictably enough. She’d talked about the joy of presents: about the joy being in the giving, not just the receiving. Absolutely, I’d agreed, nodding. Even before, but particularly since the births of my boys, the joy of Christmas for me is finding that perfect something you know will make someone smile. Watching the recipient’s eyes light up as they tear open their gift. Seeing them animatedly examine what you’ve bought them – albeit, in the case of very small children, for a few scant seconds, before moving, excitedly, on to the next.
‘But,’ she’d continued, going off standard Christmas-message-script, ‘it’s not only adults who love the giving. Some time ago, my son – then sixteen – taught me a valuable lesson.’ To paraphrase (as since then my memory has been addled by a mixture of Lemsip and mulled wine) she’d recounted how, that year (as indeed every year) she’d tried to dissuade him from spending too much of his hard-earned wages on buying presents. ‘We don’t need gifts from you,’ she’d told him, ‘your love and happiness is more than enough.’
Her son had turned on her eventually, with something bordering anger. ‘But mum,’ he’d countered, ‘why should you be the only one to have the fun?’
Bells starting ringing loudly, for me and my boys.
How many times, I pondered, had I told the boys that I had everything I wanted, and didn’t need any presents?
How often had I told them not to ‘waste’ their money on their mum, that it was enough for me to see their smiles?
How many times, I wondered, had I (inadvertently) spoilt their fun?
Sermon, and service, over, the lanky shepherd threw his lamb into Mary’s lap, and we headed to the back to munch mince pies.
Today the FOB and I took the boys, and their cousins, last-minute Christmas shopping.
And I watched the FOB bend down as Feisty Fellow whispered earnestly in his ear. Before, hand in hand, they headed off together in the direction of the Cook Shop. I don’t need any more spatulas, but that’s not the point.
And I stood, for at least a quarter of an hour, as Binary Boy fingered each and every product in the Cadbury’s outlet, humming and hawing over what item of chocolate his dad would like best. His dad doesn’t need any more chocolate, but that is also, not the point.
And I nodded my agreement as Sensible Son sped off, £10 note in hand, who knows where or why. Neither the FOB or I need any presents worth a whole £10, but that, as I understand all too clearly now, is not the point.
So when, on Christmas Day I add something far too expensive, and possibly unnecessary, to all that I already have, I will thank them and smile broadly. Because I will know that – they too – will have had their fun.