Anticipating Christmas · 18 December 2010

I hear Carly Simon and think of the Heinz Ketchup commercial whenever I think of anticipation and delayed gratification. And I think of both of those when I think of Christmas.

Now, I am not trying to preach, but I wonder if we all miss the point of both Christmas and delayed gratification when it comes right down to it. We are all in such a hurry to get the next sale or raise that we do not enjoy the journey along the way. The old saying goes, “Success only comes before Work in the dictionary,” seems to have lost its meaning in the day of athletes getting contracts for millions of dollars before ever taking a snap from center, swinging the bat during a plate appearance, or making a layup. We seem to think of those young athletes and the other folks who seem to have gotten their lucky breaks early in life whenever we feel sorry for ourselves. Whenever we think that we do not make enough money or that life is passing us by.

But when we think of those lucky people, we do not see all of the work they did behind the scenes to become so lucky. Sure, there are those who succeed before they work too hard, but for almost everybody, success truly does come after all the hard work. Even if nobody sees all that hard work. That is delayed gratification.

I tend to think of delayed gratification at Christmas because of my own story of missing the point. I have not tried to get success before my time by taking short cuts or looking too far ahead. Or at least not very often. But I have let my excitement and anticipation and greed get the best of me. I have tried to get that immediate gratification, and fortunately, I learned a great lesson in the process.

When I was ten years old or so, all I wanted for Christmas was a game called Tank Command. It was a game where players placed their pieces on the long playing surface between them and tried to blow up each other’s tanks. The commercials made it look so fun and exciting that it was all I could think of whenever I thought of Christmas presents that year. No matter what else was under the Christmas tree, I just hoped that Tank Command was there.

Like most kids, my brothers, sister, and I liked to check out all the Christmas presents under the tree. (In reality, our sister and younger brother were probably too young to really participate, but I hate to leave them out of the fun.) We would look at the tags to find which ones were ours, then, see if we could guess what the presents were by the size. Of course, we would also shake the presents gently to see if we might be able to guess by the sound as well. And at least that particular year, we pressed the paper hard to see if we might be able to read what the boxes underneath said. (We must have done it more than one year, because our parents double wrapped things for several years.) We were really excited about all the presents.

For several days, I obsessed about the box that I was sure was the right size for Tank Command. I looked at it in the sunlight pressing the paper hard against the box. I shook it. I did everything short of ripping open the present to try and figure out if it really was what I wanted. Then I did the unthinkable.

Even if my parents say that I was not perfect, I was a pretty good kid. I was mostly obedient (although I did get my fair share of spankings) and I did not get into much trouble. But even though my parents warned me that looking at the presents too much would spoil the fun at Christmas when we got to open them, I could not just be patient and let gravity pull the ketchup to the bottle opening. So despite my parents’ admonitions and my brother’s worried warnings, I carefully pealed the tape at end of the box. I got one side open enough to peek at the name of the game on the box. It was Tank Command!

I was ecstatic. I was getting what I most wanted for Christmas. I carefully rewrapped the end of the box, which of course did not look quite like it did before, and strutted around excited that I was getting my Christmas wish. There were still several days left before we got to open our presents, but I knew what I was getting so I did not need to shake the presents every day like my siblings did.

When Christmas day came, everybody woke up early (as usual) and we opened our gifts one person at a time per our family tradition. Everybody was excited when they opened their presents and found new treasures inside the wrapping. They were excited and grateful for whatever they got. When I opened Tank Command, I was excited, but because I knew what it was, I was not as excited or joyful as everybody else. I think it broke my mom’s heart that I had to learn the lesson about anticipation and delayed gratification at such a young age. For she and my dad must have known that I had peeked and found out what my present was. I am sure that they cried for my lost innocence.

I enjoyed the game immensely, but even today I remember an empty feeling after opening my present. I had cheated. I had peeked. I had missed out on a few more days of anticipation. And worst of all, I had broken my parents’ hearts as well as my own. Tank Command was a fun game, but I am sure I would have enjoyed it more had I just not opened the present beforehand.

Today, I am content to watch the presents pile up around the tree. I do not check sizes or shapes of presents. I do not even lift the presents to check which ones are mine, lest I guess what it might be based on weight. I do not want to make the same mistake I made all those years ago and miss the excitement of opening a present for the first time to find a wonderful treasure given by a loved one. I do not want to cheat myself of even one moment of anticipating the excitement of Christmas morning.

I love Christmas and all the joy it brings to people around the world. Even without the tree or the presents, I would rejoice at the celebration of our Lord’s birth, and I try to make sure that our family knows the reason for the season. We read the Bible Christmas story every year. And every so often, I like to tell my own story of one Christmas as a young boy. I like to tell the story of missing out on anticipation and delayed gratification. Like most of my repeated stories, my wife and kids tell me that they have heard it all before, but I probably just tell it so I can remember. So I can remember that sometimes the anticipation of a prize or gift is almost as exciting as the gift itself. So I can remember that anticipation is really its own gift. So I can remember that life truly is all about the journey and I should enjoy it every single moment.

I wish all my readers (both real and imaginary) a very Merry Christmas. I hope that you enjoy every moment of this wonderful time of year. I hope that you have a great time of celebration with friends and family. And I hope that you have a wonderful time of anticipation leading up to that marvelous day.

© 2010 Michael T. Miyoshi

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