Monday, February 14, 2005


Over the past weekend, Timothy asked me about half a dozen times, "What's happening on Monday?" When he asks that question while smiling, it means he knows the answer to the question, but would like to start a conversation. I always take the bait.

"It's Valentine's Day," I said, at which point he would do some little dance, or clap, or something to express his joy at the idea of receiving candy. He's also very excited about giving and getting cards. He made some great ones for everyone in his class (as per teacher request), and between his mother's "cropping" skills and his own love for making "crafts," they were very nice.

But one time, he asked if he still had to go to school. And it dawned on me that he had added an extra dimension to his definition of holidays.

At a young enough age, kids don't understand holidays. One day there's nothing, the next day there's a bunch of boxes, covered in paper that you're allowed to rip. Inside are toys to play with. Yipee. Maybe some new people have shown up, maybe the house looks different (and there are new things to get your hand spanked for touching), but when you can't remember things from one day to the next, what's the big deal? Is Mommy there? Check. Is the cat there? Check. All is right with the world. Hey look, boxes!

As kids get older, holidays become equated with one thing: parties. It's my birthday; when's the party? Christmas; when do we open presents? Halloween; let's take a walk and get some candy. You get the idea.

Birthdays at our house are a complex thing. There's the official, technical birthday itself, which we celebrate with singing, cards (containing money equal to your age in dollars), and maybe some presents. Then there's the party, which usually is after the actual birthday. Then there's some event with Memaw and Gaga (my parents). And finally, there's some sort of thing with my wife's family. There are so many folks on that side of the family that we basically get together once a month to celebrate all the birthdays within that month.

So it's no wonder that birthdays confuse the kids. On his last birthday, Stephen came downstairs and, as we started singing, he began to cry, asking "Where are my friends?" No friends = no party = no birthday. (We had the party later that week, and he was okay.)

But now, Timothy is at that age where he's in school every day. And, as a true lover of consistency (like his father), he notices that on some holidays he does not have to go to school. Also, since he spends so much time with so many people anyway, parties have been distilled down to their essence: receiving presents.

So, in Timothy's mind, there are two characteristics that define a holiday (or, nerd-wise, you could say that holidays are 2 dimensional).

1. Do I receive presents?
2. Do I get off school?

Which gives us four classifications of holiday, to wit:
A. Get presents, off school: Christmas, Easter (candy is by definition a gift, since you receive the same reaction if you try to take it away)
B. Get presents, not off school: Birthday, Valentine's Day, Halloween
C. No presents, off school: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Memorial Day
D. No presents, not off school: Groundhog Day, Arbor Day

So what about us? Holidays are very multidimensional for adults. Issues include:
- Do I have to work?
- Do I have to shave?
- Do I have to buy presents for anyone? If so, how many, and for how many people?
- Do I have to get cards for anyone, etc.?
- Do I have to drive anywhere?
- Do I have to cook, and has it been decided in advance what I'll need to cook?

There are many more, but these are the big ones. And yes, as a concern, shaving ranks above buying presents and interstate driving.

For example: today, St. Valentine's Day. I do have to work, and I also have to shave. I did buy presents, but just for my wife. I was supposed to get a card for her as well, but I forgot (it's okay, she forgot too). There is no driving involved, since we are not going anywhere, but I am cooking. There will be mac & cheese for the kids, beef stew for us, and then I'll make cookies, enough for our Bible study on Wednesday and to take to some friends who've had a baby.

But I got some chocolate, and a kiss from my wife. Not a bad holiday.


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