Advent Day 24: Empty Tree Syndrome

I fought the impulse to keep buying things for our kids this year. They have so many toys and so many family members who love them and want to buy them gifts, too, but at the same time, we don’t want to seem like the Grinchiest parents on the block.
Last night as I wrapped the last of the gifts and filled the stockings, sliding what we bought intentionally, with each child and each tradition we’ve established in mind (Christmas PJs, books, and ornaments), I panicked and experienced the phenomenon we might call ETS or “Empty Tree Syndrome.”
My mom is afflicted with this disease. It is a common condition often contracted this time of year, and unfortunately there doesn’t appear to be a cure.  It is unclear whether the disease is bacterial or viral, but I suspect with more research it will be determined to be genetic.  I’ve conducted a brief case study (with two generations of women), and the results seem conclusive: genetically transmitted.
There is one primary symptom that manifests itself prior to Christmas day.  If you hear this sentence, “But it looks so empty!” an intervention must take place immediately or the patient will be out the door, purse in hand, to find more things for under the tree. Any things.
One of my goals to battle against ETS, which stayed in remission until last year when we had a little extra cash and a lot of Christmas spirit, was to pick out one large package for each of my children that would take up extra square footage under the tree.  Another strategy I employed in 2013 was to jam the tree into the corner next to a large chair, thus reducing the floor space available for presents, creating the illusion of a much larger pile of gifts.
In these things I was successful, until about 10 p.m. last night.  All of the gifts were wrapped.  I slid them one by one underneath the tree, stacking the tall things on their tall ends to give height and breadth to the pile.  I stood back and thought to myself, “But it looks so empty!”
Knowing the early signs of an ETS outbreak, I quickly returned to the sofa and drank some wine, keeping the pile of presents out of my peripheral vision.  It was too late to get out and buy more presents.  I began to regret the decision not to buy a few more things, just a few more things.  Brandon has been ill and, if not for that would have bought a few more things, which would have filled out the tree and made the pile even bigger, even better!  As we climbed the stairs, I worried a little that our children would be disappointed this morning.  I reminded myself that we made reservations at one of Disney’s resorts for next summer, and that this gift presented this morning would be something to look forward to for the next six months.  This helped to curb the symptoms of ETS, and I slipped into sleep.
This morning, we came downstairs and Lydia began to survey the presents and the stockings, eyeing tags and feeling the foot of her red stocking.  She grinned, “Mom!  There are so many presents!  I thought you guys were going to get us just one!”
ETS might be genetic, but apparently it can be resisted and overcome, with time and effort, and a little lower expectations instilled in the next generation.  Besides, we will be going to three more Christmas parties in the next week, where the symptoms of ETS have manifested themselves in many, many brightly colored packages that are certain to bring glee to my three sweet children.
Merry Christmas, all!

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” – John 1:14

Published by Sarah M. Wells

Sarah M. Wells is the author of The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Gospels to Help Kids and Parents Love God and Love Others (2022), American Honey: A Field Guide to Resisting Temptation (2021), Between the Heron and the Moss (2020), The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Bible to Help Kids and Parents Engage and Love Scripture (2018), Pruning Burning Bushes (2012), and a chapbook of poems, Acquiesce, winner of the 2008 Starting Gate Award through Finishing Line Press (2009). Sarah's work has been honored with four Pushcart Prize nominations, and her essays have appeared in the notable essays list in the Best American Essays 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, and 2018. Sarah is the recipient of a 2018 Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council. She resides in Ashland, Ohio with her husband and three children.

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