It’s Christmas time. I’m not going to be politically correct and state that it’s “the holiday season” or any other such nonsense.
The season is winter, holidays occur throughout the year and everyone from every religion in any country that has in any way been in even tangential contact with western culture knows that it’s Christmas time. It doesn’t matter whether they celebrate it as a Christian tradition, a calendar based sales platform originally set up by Coca-Cola, or don’t even celebrate Christmas at all.
To me, Christmas is vacation, food and presents. Yes, presents. Friends and family too, they’re very important, but I see friends and family all the time; I only get presents twice a year. On my birthday I throw a party, taking care of drinks and food for all attendants, and with Christmas, I give as much as I get. So it’s actually not really about the ‘getting something’, nor is it about the monetary value of the gifts. At least, not for me. But every year I’m asked again for a list of things I would like and every year I have a little more trouble coming up with ideas for myself.
“What do you want for Christmas?” my mother asks. Or my girlfriend, or her sister. Surely, it’s great when someone imagines the perfect gift for you all on their own, but that’s rare and we shouldn’t expect that. Nor should we get annoyed at someone who just wants to get you something you actually want.
“I don’t really know,” I answer, feeling pressured. I would like to ask for something that they would like to give as well as something I would like to receive. It can’t be too expensive, nor too cheap (too cheap can be insulting, trivializing their efforts). The best gifts also tend to be the ones the giver can understand: a gift the giver could conceivably be happy to be given.
“Argh, you’re so frustrating. Isn’t there anything you need?” Damn. Needs. Now my Christmas wish list has dragged me into an existential crisis of weighing ‘needs’ against ‘wants’. I know what I need. I think I know what everyone needs: a supportive social network, the proper amount of sleep, a healthy diet, exercise, emotionally fulfilling vocational pursuits and financial security. I have lots of good friends, I eat well and I exercise regularly. So, all I need is sleep, a job I like and money. I can only really ask for money as a gift.
“Ehh, yeah. I need a lot of stuff. But I don’t know, I’ll think about it.” I’m not going to ask for money for Christmas. Sure, it might help me sleep and it would definitely make rent a lot less unreasonably scary, but I’m not going to ask for impersonal, dirty, cold cash for Christmas. Mariah Carey didn’t sing “All I need for Christmas”, nor does the caroling classic sound “On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to meeeee: two-hundred and seventy-threeeeee”. I’m not ready to let my needs become my wants and in some way I think that means I’m not ready to let go of my childhood.
Yes yes, childhood, bla bla. Sentimental bs. But that’s Christmas time: one of the most important times of the year for children, sustained by the good-intentioned lies of their parents. Thinking about a wish list made me think about growing up, about maturing, becoming an adult. How I don’t want to be an adult, how I’m maturing poorly and how I’m not doing too well growing up. It made me think about the wish lists I had when I was a kid.
When I was a kid I knew exactly what I wanted. I wanted the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figure Fugitoid. I wanted a Lego spaceship. I wanted a sword. I wasn’t getting a sword (yet), but I wanted it. Oohh, I needed it. My want felt like a need. If you would’ve asked me “What do you need?”, I would’ve given you the exact same answer. You could argue that as a kid, I had no real concept of wants and needs. My survival needs were taken care of, so all I had left to myself were my wants. Then again, in her seasonal super hit Mariah Carey also sings “There is just one thing I need”.
My ‘wants’ felt like ‘needs’. Some ‘wants’ still do feel like ‘needs’, but it’s not the same; it’s all abstract, philosophical crap, like love. As a kid I wanted silly things. I got excited about toys, stuff that would be of the lowest priority in a survival situation. But I knew what they were, what they could do and what they were for. Fugitoid was a fugitive android, home to the mind of Professor Honeycutt and friend to the Turtles. He was fully articulated and had a hollow chest compartment. He was going to take part in epic battles and adventures. See? Clear.
Money is quite clear too: throw it at a problem, problem goes away. If you want to be a functioning, independent adult, you will need money. Implying that you’ll have lots of problems, but I won’t get into that. Sometimes you might think you want money, but what you really want is what the money can buy. And I’m afraid that my ‘needs’ will become my ‘wants’; that my ‘wants’ will be those intangible things that can neither be bought nor gifted, or money, because I need it.
I want to want tangible things for Christmas. I want the innocence of an action figure with death-grip. I want silly ‘wants’ to have the power to make me feel like I need them. I want to look at a Christmas tree and feel excitement, not remember it wistfully. And I want other people to feel the same way. So, this Christmas, or whatever occasion in which you find yourself needing a ‘want’, ask for something silly. If you’ve already asked for money, take some of that money and go do something or get something frivolous. We all need a lot of things, but we can take care of those things during the rest of the year. After all, Santa doesn’t spread maintenance of the status quo; he spreads joy.