The Best Gift This Holiday SeasonIt was our first Christmas in America. In the picture, I am holding a small teddy bear in one hand and a Golden Book in another. My brother’s skinny arms are displaying his stuffed animal and book. Behind us is a fake tree sparsely decorated with glass bulbs and twinkling lights.

In the 70’s, my Ahpah made the bold move to America to find work and establish a home for us. With eagerness, he took on any job he could. He eventually became a jack-of-all-trades in carpentry, factory work, and construction.

My Uhma, my brother and I stayed in South Korea with the rest of our extended family. In Seoul, my mother made a great living as a teacher while our relatives helped raise us. I have fond memories of eating puff pastries at the bakery counter, tasting persimmons in the marketplace and eating hot noodles in food courts.

My mother had hopes of raising a third child on her own, a luxury she never had with us. However, my father was barely making enough to cover the bills and expenses of daily living. My mother quickly went back to work as a bilingual teacher. Even with both of their incomes, we were on a tight budget and living paycheck to paycheck.

In hindsight, I recognize an odd paradox during this period of frugal living. We did not have a lot of money, but those years held some of the richest moments of my life. We spent a great deal of time exploring this new country that was now our home. Our bond was cemented by our recent reunion.

We lived very simply, but my parents made sure the bulk of our money was spent on eating good food. Grocery shopping was a time for us to load up the cart with all kinds of new delicious food and snacks. I recall all kinds of cereals, dark green broccoli, crunchy and smooth peanut butters and salisbury steak dinners filled our carts as my mother’s fingers flew over the calculator to tally up our purchases.

My parents were creative in how they entertained us. On the weekends, we took scenic drives with a Korean picnic. Snow filled hill sides, layers of orange and red fall foliage and the sprawling beaches of the coastline were ongoing backdrops for us to view from our the car. Sometimes, my mother made kimbap rolls in the back of the station wagon that filled the car with the smell of sesame oil. Most of the colorful and savory rolls were eaten before we got to our destination. When my father worked at a factory, we surprised him with homemade dishes like bean paste stew and jap chae noodle stir fry that we ate together on a blanket in the tall grass.

I recall these sweet and mouth-watering memories in the midst of the holiday season to counter the stress and emotions that arise. The winter holidaysThe Best Gift This Holiday Season bring up feelings of lack and pangs of lost chances with loved ones who are far away or gone. It is also a time of financial strain as we try to save up for vacations and gifts.

After moving to Seattle, my husband and I were excited to visit both of our families this winter. But with one set in Idaho and another in Maryland, plus the time off from work, we realized that it would be too much of a financial strain.

So we decided to travel in the spring and keep our holiday experiences local. This means walking around the light show at the zoo, visiting Star Wars trains sets and drooling over gingerbread house displays. It does not mean piles of presents for anyone, overindulging in Christmas cookies or shopping against the throngs of people at the stores. Missing out on all this is a good thing.

Just like my parents, I am forced to reevaluate what really matters. In my personal history, there have been times of affluence, of struggle and periods of ease and comfort. Four years ago, I made a conscious choice to not give up all my time for a paycheck. Of course, we all need to work and pay the bills, but we can do it with awareness. As a family, we choose to get by with less stuff and more time. You cannot relive memories that were lost out to busyness.

This time of year, I want to hand out little cards to strangers and to myself that read, “Let’s stop the madness and reboot the holidays.” I want to remind people to stop worrying about buying gifts and longing for personal presents that were discovered during multiple shopping trips.

If we all take a moment and rethink the automatic consumerism, we can reimagine this holiday season. Thousands of advertisers and retailers remind us that with the right toy, cell phone or ring we can show how much we love someone. None of these buying equations are true.

The Best Gift This Holiday SeasonWhat is the best gift this holiday season? The best gift is to show love instead of trying to buy it and to stop trying to create a picture perfect moment and just be together. To share homemade food together served with engaging conversations.

This is what I am going to gift this year. Loving my partner like we just started dating, sitting with my kids like they just entered my life and talking with my parents as if it were my last chance to communicate with them.

I want to fill my life with the showing not just telling of love.

My toddler grabbed my hand the other morning and held it to his face and made cooing sounds. He was showing me a gesture of appreciation just because I was there, excited to see him when he woke up.

They say, “Caring is sharing” but what they forgot to mention is that it is not just about sharing material goods but also sharing your time with another. Starting today, gift someone your full attention and presence. It will leave you feeling rich and abundant.



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4 thoughts on “The Best Gift This Holiday Season

  • December 17, 2017 at 8:54 pm

    thank you sweet heart

    • December 17, 2017 at 10:20 pm

      Of course, my family. Thank you for reading and sharing.

  • December 21, 2017 at 8:58 pm

    beautiful story, I hope Niko remembers it when he is a grown man.

    • December 22, 2017 at 7:01 pm

      I hope he will want to read about himself when he is older. We collect stories of our past so differently now. Thank you for your kind words.


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