[This post ran on the Register about this time of year in 2011.]
This year, we were bound and determined not to ruin the last few weeks of Advent with shopping.
This year, no sobbing in the aisles of Target as some undeserving jerk nabs the western hemisphere’s last remaining copy of Godzilla Unleashed for Wii. No tense evenings hunched over the computer as mom and dad show their love for their family by nearly coming to blows over whether or not one can trust the Amazon reviewers of the Li’l Cutie Maggot Farm Starter Kit.
No, this year, we were going to dispense with that foolishness, and keep Advent the way it ought to be: a holy season of quiet anticipation and preparation. We were, for once, going to choose the better part.
We accomplished this by cramming all of the shopping into the first couple of weeks of Advent.
I’m sorry, but you go ahead and find even modest presents and stocking stuffers for eight children without getting a little wrought up over it. It’s too late to turn into one of those nice families that doesn’t care a whit about material things. You don’t just suddenly tell a 9-year-old boy, “Son, you’ve been waiting all your life to be old enough to have your own MP3 player, much like the ones your older sisters unwrapped so gleefully last Christmas. But this year, we have a much better plan. Everyone’s going to get a biography of Blessed Ubalda the Dreary and a nearly new pair of socks, and some missionaries in Bangalore have promised to remember you at Matins!”
The truth is, I really don’t feel bad about making a big deal about presents—or, for that matter, about any of the sensuous foofarah that goes along with preparations for Christmas. I’m more or less at peace with the balance we’ve found between Mary and Martha, hymns and gingerbread, piety and pie. We try to make Advent a distinctly spiritual season, but a distinctly pleasant one: Every prayer comes with a cookie attached—because, darn it, cookies make us happy, and so does the Incarnation. That seems right to me, especially with so many little kids in the house. (The trick will be to make sure that our kids continue to spend Christmas with us when they get older, so I can continue to have cookies with my prayers.)
However, we do draw the line somewhere. This year, my husband and I spent a good 40 minutes online hunting down a specific action figure—which, I hasten to add, no one actually asked for—until we realized that maybe, just maybe, this particular gift wasn’t the most appropriate way to celebrate the birth of our Savior.
Oh, I have nothing against action figures in general. Actually, I do. The prices they charge for these shoddy little, poorly-painted hunks of plastic just designed to lose limbs and accessories and cause grief and heartache until they disappear entirely! They seems to me like the worst present ever. But the grit of my grousing has been gradually covered over, year by year, by the pearly nacre of inexplicable joy shining on the face of a kid who really, really, really wanted a three-inch representation of Indiana Jones, and who got a three-inch representation of Indiana Jones. I know happiness when I see it. I still don’t get it, but I’m willing to admit that, for some kids, an action figure is a Good Present.
Except for the one for which we came within inches of pressing “buy now” last night. It was this guy:
As you can see, it’s part of a play set for children. Just previous to the tasteful vignette depicted here, Ash has managed to scrape his face off the hot stove, whereon he was hurled by a team of malicious miniature Ash demons. After being impaled with a barbecue fork, Ash retaliates by swallowing one of the mini Ashes and the scalding him with a bellyful of boiling water. But! (and this is where the “play set for kids” part comes in) when he regains consciousness, he discovers that an entire new Ash—Evil Ash—is growing inside him, and, in a truly revolting and explicit scene of anguish, it begins to separate gruesomely from his body as it grows into a full-sized man.
After that, it gets kind of gross.
What’s that you say? You can’t believe that good Catholic parents would allow their children even to know about such a clearly demonic and horrifying movie, much less let them watch it, much less let them watch it often enough (twice!) that an innocent and malleable 9-year-old soul might actually consider such a gift to be desirable?
Yeah, well. How about I give you the address of those missionaries in Bangalore. Apparently they’re running a special this year, and you can get a whole novena said for the salvation of our family’s souls—half price!
You know what the worst part is? I lied. We’re only halfway done shopping. But still, we didn’t buy Evil Ash. And for a couple of primitive screwheads like us, I think that’s pretty good.