Once children start appearing in the family, Christmas becomes all about them.
Christmas is all about children … I hate that
Christmas was a few days ago - it's pretty much the biggest holiday in my family. As many of us as possible gather in snowy Connecticut for the traditional holiday events: feasting, singing, last-minute gift wrapping, sudden napping and, of course, keeping track of what everyone else received for Christmas.
Because no matter how carefully gifts are shopped for, or how strategically they are placed under the Christmas tree, someone always ends up slightly ahead. Or behind.
Children, as we all know, are cold-eyed realists. They keep score. Adults tend to be more flexible. Some adults, that is. Some - full disclosure: I'm talking about me - never quite make the adjustment.
Because when you reach a certain age, you stop getting Christmas presents. Good ones, anyway. Someone will give you socks, of course, or something equally last-minute, but when you turn the corner on 30 or 35, suddenly children start to appear in the family and Christmas becomes all about them. I hate that.
And not because I don't like kids. I love kids. But I also love presents - especially the smaller, heavier ones that sit under the tree and positively glow with the promise of high value, expensive stuff.
Back when I often wore neckties to work, I especially loved seeing slender orange boxes under the tree with my name on them - it meant, unmistakably, that someone was giving me a necktie from Hermes, which fulfils all of the major criteria for a perfect present: it's expensive, it's silky, I can wear it, and it's expensive.
Once, as a joke, my brother put a new plastic pen inside a Hermes necktie box, wrapped it up and placed it under the tree without comment. He had a good laugh on Christmas morning. I did not join in. A Bic pen, as I'm sure I made clear, fulfils zero of the criteria for a perfect present: it's cheap, it's plastic, I cannot wear it, and it's cheap.
But I'm old now. And I know the score: when Christmas rolls around, I know I'm not going to get anything that doesn't come from Target or Wal-Mart, from a bin that's close to the cashier.
And I know this isn't my most attractive trait, but I like getting presents, and considering the effort I put into getting to snowy, rural Connecticut, on the other side of the country from where I live in sunny urban Los Angeles, socks just don't make the grade.
Last year, though, I had an idea. I got all of the adults in the family to agree to a "Secret Santa" scheme. We'd put our names in a hat, draw a name apiece, and buy a gift - "Something substantial," I told everyone. "Something heavy and expensive and fulfilling the criteria I've been talking about for years" - for the person whose name we drew.
They all agreed, which surprised me, because frankly I think everyone in my family enjoyed winding me up every Christmas. It's a cruelty that only close family can indulge in, because only they know your secret weaknesses and private character flaws. A cheap pen, a pair of socks - my family knew that I wanted something more, and that I looked upon the happy children on Christmas morning who were laden with toys and games and fun stuff with a mixture of jealousy and rage. And they liked watching me pretend that I wasn't.
Somehow, though, I convinced them to enthusiastically embrace the Secret Santa scheme. Perhaps I wasn't the only one who missed getting a high-end present under the tree. I was just more honest about it.
So I happily went about the business of Secret Santa: I wrote everyone's name down on a piece of paper, found a hat, tossed the papers inside, and we made the draw. Everyone seemed to be happy with who they got. "It's secret," I reminded everyone. "Don't tell anyone whose name you drew."
About 30 minutes later, though, my brother suddenly looked up suddenly. "Rob," he asked, "Did you just write your own name down on every piece of paper?"
I was outraged. "What kind of person do you think I am?" I shouted.
"The kind of person who would like to find a pile of gifts under the tree all for himself."
In a way, it's touching that he knew me so well. Because, of course, that's exactly what I had done.
So we drew again - this time, sadly, the fair way - and a new family tradition was born, which just goes to show you: sometimes a little bit of jealousy and greed is necessary to make everyone's holiday more meaningful and special. And that's my gift to them.
Rob Long is a writer and producer based in Hollywood
On Twitter: @rcbl