I was 11 years old and I knew exactly what I wanted for Christmas. On an errand with my mom, I spied it at our local drugstore, going around and around in the display case on top of the jewelry counter. A silver Timex watch. In my young eyes, there were no other watches in the case – just mine.
After that, it was no secret what I wanted for Christmas. That watch. It was December and I knew it would soon be mine.
Back in “my day,” the local stores didn’t put purchases in bags. Instead, they wrapped them in white paper and sealed them with an inch-wide strip of white tape that had the name of the store on it.
It must have been a Saturday, because I was home when my mom walked in the kitchen door with a single, small, drugstore-paper-wrapped package in her hand. The strip of sealing tape read: “Wiest Drugstore.” That was all the evidence I needed. I screamed, “My watch! My watch!,” grabbed it out of my mom’s hand, and ran to put it under the Christmas tree.
I can’t tell you how many times in the days leading to Christmas Eve I sat crossed-legged by the tree, with my hands cradling the package that held my watch. Sometimes, I held out my arm and stared at my wrist, imagining that silver watch on my arm. My dream was just a thin piece of paper away.
Christmas Eve finally rolled around. I endured the program at church, and sipped the green punch Mom always served before we opened gifts. And then, it was time to open my gifts. There were a few other packages under the tree for me, but I decided to leave the best for last. The only other gift I remember was a “train case,” a small, blue suitcase that would hold at least five Nancy Drew books and pajamas if I had a sleepover to attend. Any other year, I would have been thrilled to have my own “real” suitcase, but not this year. This year, my “big” gift was the smallest one under the tree. Everyone else was done opening gifts when I pulled the “Wiest Drugstore” package onto my lap. I was sure Mom hadn’t bothered to wrap it in fancy Christmas paper for fear I might catch her in the act. Before opening it, I gave my mom a big smile – sharing the not-so-secret secret.
I slipped my thumb under the white tape and tore it open. There, in my hands, I held a Chore Boy, a curly, metal scrub pad. That is what my mom had purchased that day. That’s what was in the package I grabbed out of her hands, while yelling, “My watch! My watch!”
My jaw dropped. My heart sank further. Then I exploded. I jumped to my feet, threw the scrub pad at my mom and ran to my room screaming, “It isn’t FUNNY!” Slam went the door. I threw myself onto my bed and sobbed my 11-year-old heart out. I was sad. Mad. And, also embarrassed. In spite of being the target of my often prank-playing mother’s joke, I realized it was me who had assumed the package was a watch. Me, who had grabbed it from Mom’s hands and put it under the tree. I was the butt of the joke I created.
Mom came into my room to apologize. I’m sure my sobs drowned out her words.
I’ve had a lot of years to reflect on that incident. And, the word that always comes to mind is “expectations.” I had my heart and mind so fixated on the expectation I was going to get my heart’s desire that I failed to see the facts. My mom would have never walked into the house carrying my “big” Christmas gift right in front of me. She would have never left my special gift wrapped in plain drugstore paper. I’d been the one to announce what was inside and put it under the tree.
And so it is most every Christmas. We go into it with expectations. Gifts that will transform our lives. A church service that fills us with wonder. Family time that is nothing but joy. But tiffs and spills, messes and frustration often overshadow the expectations we put on people and possessions.
Here’s the thing with expectations: When we expect perfection, we are bound to be disillusioned and disappointed.
The time of expectation leading to Christmas is called Advent, which means the arrival of a notable person, thing or event. It is the expectation that someone or something special is about to arrive.
Instead of putting our expectations and hopes on people who are only human and bound, at times, to disappoint. Instead of having the false expectation that a silver watch (or any purchased gift) would change my 11-year old life. Instead of all that, the expectation of Christmas should be on the person and event no human can be, no money can buy. Jesus will never disappoint or fail to satisfy. The event is his birth.
It’s time we stop wishing for cheap presents and time to start longing for the presence that lasts.
(My birthday is four days after Christmas. I’m sure you know exactly what I got for my birthday. It was something I might not even remember all these years later, had it not been for the Chore Boy trauma.)
Roxanne (Roxy) Henke is expecting her daughters and grandkids for Christmas. She expects to have a grand time. (Along with only-human foibles.) That’s OK. Presence beats presents any day. You can reach Roxy at firstname.lastname@example.org.