The Greatest Gift

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This appeared in the December 2010 issue of SKI mag. It’s a decent perspective giver if you’re feeling the stress of the buying season.

The Greatest Gift

By Edie Thys Morgan

We have developed a tradition in our house at Christmas. Every year the kids ask for a Wii, and every year they don’t get one. This is not because we are the meanest parents in the world (though on some days we’d easily get two votes). This is because my husband and I share a theory about presents, and it is this: We believe the greatest gifts have two things in common: First, they are much needed (need being a relative term here); And second, they inspire us to get outside, rather than stay inside.

Because of our family’s shared obsession with skiing, this theory holds particularly true for Christmas presents. What’s not to love about comfy boots, flashy new skis, a stylin’ warm coat or your very first racing suit?—all things that have been under the tree at some point. Inevitably, Christmas Day comes and goes with no disappointment other than the fact that it’s over. I will say though, that it would be much more convenient if Christmas was on, say, Thanksgiving, when the ski season officially starts. It would be kinder too.

The year my oldest son graduated from hand- me-down and ski swap ski boots he was overjoyed and even somewhat surprised to discover the exact pair of bright blue Lange’s he had tried on a month earlier—the ones he had fantasized about every time since when he’d crammed his feet into too-small boots. I felt a little bad about the pain, but he got over it. Likewise, it killed me to see my youngest son start his season like every other, in his brother’s outgrown battered helmet, and look longingly at the kids with pristine new helmets. But when he unwrapped his first very own helmet, a glittering blue and silver masterpiece with matching goggles, the suffering was forgotten. His suffering, that is.

I’m the one who wavers every year, who wants to just give them the cool and practical ski stuff they need outright, and join the parental arms race to get them that special “G.I. Joe-with-the-kung-fu-grip” of the moment. I do this despite my own long, shameful lists of obscenely expensive gifts that gather dust, and despite the greatest gift in my memory: the green puffy down coat.

I first saw it in November in our local sports shop, and every day after skiing I visited it to pet it and try it on. When the saleswoman gently informed me a man had bought it for his daughter I was devastated, and still really cold in my outgrown parka. My parents said nothing, though I’d like to think they agonized over my grief. When I finally opened my big present on Christmas Day, it was as if I’d rediscovered a long lost best friend.

But the best part was yet to come. My family was a little loose on any holiday that affected their ski time and even Christmas Eve was a moving target some years. But we had one hard and fast Christmas tradition. After the last box was opened Dad herded us to the mountain. “The best skiing of the year is on Christmas Day,” he’d remind us. “Nobody gets out there early.” So we abandoned the glee debris in the living room and hit the slopes, green coat and all, to enjoy the white of Christmas together.

Dad picked his one tradition well. Skiing on Christmas Day is more than parading your new gear. It’s about truly being with your people. Every face on the mountain glints with a similar look that is equal parts wonder and joy at being able to do this sport, in this place, together. It took me a bunch of years, a couple of kids, and a little holding out to really understand it, but that “we” is the greatest gift of all.