Being single and childless has advantages but there is certainly a tradeoff. One of those times when it sucks to be a middle-aged man with no wife or kids is, of course, Christmas. Not just because of the constant reminder that this is a season for family, or the fact that all your favorite Christmas variety show hosts are dead or in diapers, but because of how we damn near go bankrupt buying gifts for all our married-with-children friends and family.
You know how it goes. For every clan you need a present for Child A, a present for Child B, a present for Child C, a present for each of the parents and, depending on their level of Christmas insanity, a present for the family pet. Meanwhile, from them you receive a plastic trinket and greeting card with a picture of the lot of them (including the dog) wearing snowflake sweaters and a caption that reads, "Happy Holidays from the WeBurnedYouButGood Family."
However this ain't about that. This is about the family I do have—my father, mother, two siblings (and their respective families)—and a little concept we call Christmas Reform.
See, the typical Decker Christmas takes place at my parents' house in New York, where pretty much all the presents are stowed and, ultimately, opened. It is also where the stockings are hung and maintained by The Parents. The Christmas Reform theory arose around five years ago when we noticed the exorbitant amount of time, money and energy everyone was spending on gifts. Being that we all had a mutual, unspoken desire to wake up to as large of a pile of goodies beneath the tree as possible, the pile kept growing and growing until it became so unwieldy and massive, it was as if the tree itself had—after a seven-course feast prepared by Santa and his elves—deposited a glittering, Technicolor ordure for our pleasure and amazement.
Still, try as we might, Christmas reform didn't fly. Probably because we all still secretly felt—for all our desire to shun materialism—that the best part of Christmas is waking up to a shimmering load of Christmas tree booty. Unless you are one of these Give-Up-Your-Career-to-Dig-Irrigation-Ditches-in-Haiti types, I bet you feel the same.
This year, The Mother took a new, reduced approach. In an email to the family she wrote, "Here is a little bit of Christmas Reform to consider: Each of us must buy two items for everyone's stockings. It is time to share the surprises and joy! With love, The Mother."
Obviously this was a terrible idea. But due to the fact that as kids we were routinely beaten with items from the kitchen drawer, I was the only one who objected.
"Dear Mother, despite that my siblings are too terrified to defy you lest they reawaken the wrath of the wooden spoon, I must respectfully reject Christmas Stocking Reform. For one reason, it is clear that your idea of reform is to reduce the amount of effort expended by you while at the same time increasing ours.
"Secondly, it is the law. According to the Department of Homeland Holiday Security, 'Pursuant to Chapter 12, Section 505(p) of the Code of Christmas Conduct, it is the responsibility of all parental units to fill the stockings of their children regardless [and this is important] of the age, distance, or how much of an ungrateful bastard he or she continues to be.'
"Lastly, it is tradition. Just as your parents filled your stockings, and their parents filled theirs, you must continue to fill ours. Therefore I respectfully decline your request for Christmas Stocking Reform—wooden spoon be damned."
Her response was predictable. "Dear Son, You might have a point if you were a parent, but you aren't, so it is time for you to pay it back!"
"Dear Mommy Dearest: See, you are not considering the sacrifices one must make to not have children. Not having children means we never get to experience those soul-swelling moments of parenthood—like the first time you cradle the child in your arms, or when it finally calls you daddy, or, best of all, having someone to take care of us when we are old. Being childless means we are going to die miserable and alone whereas your kids and grandkids will lovingly surround you at the hospital bed waving incense and singing 'Fire and Rain' as they hold your hands and gently guide you toward the soft light."
Moreover, not having kids at Christmastime means we will never hear them squeal when The Grinch first appears on the screen, or watch them frolic on the jungle gym for which they've been begging, or see their faces alight as Dad prances around in a Santa suit. However, being childless at Christmas also means we won't have to prance around in a Santa suit, we won't have to assemble a jungle gym, and we won't have to stuff any stockings with meaningless trinkets they will probably swallow, causing me to take them to the emergency room and spend the money I was saving for a billiards table.
Pay it back? Oh please. I have done the world a favor by not having children. Not only because somebody has to counteract all those baby-making factories out there—like the Duggars, the Gosselins and The Catholic Church—but because that's three or four gifts my friends and family don't have to buy my offspring at Christmastime. You're welcome.