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Culture & Religion

This Year, Prioritize Presence Over Presents

When writer Carolyn Briggs insisted that her children observe a more traditional Christmas, she was left isolated at a time of togetherness. This year, she will value her presence more highly. 

What’s the Latest Development?

Last Christmas, author Carolyn Briggs relented on family traditions to bring everyone together in a New Orleans hotel suite. “There would be no homecoming, no wrapped gifts and no grandchildren to fill with Santa dreams. My grown children were childless by choice and vowed to remain that way.” Desperate for a smattering of tradition, she asked everyone to write a Christmas wish on a slip of holiday paper. “There was dismay at the assigned sentiment. They smiled at the stockings the way they would have smiled at anything outdated and useless, with pained tolerance.”

What’s the Big Idea?

For Briggs, “Christmas is one of those fleeting but essential ‘aah’ moments of generosity, family bonding and extravagance of spirit that psychologists tell us matter because they give us the opportunity to transcend, appreciate and feel outside of time.” But when her nontraditional Christmas devolved into smoking pot and telling bad jokes, Briggs lost her cool, threw everyone out but immediate family members, and became instantly isolated. This year, she is resolved not to be the “old person in the family who remains recalcitrant and claims outsize privilege with age.”

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