Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That’s why it is called the present.

— Attributed to Alice Morse Earle

This piece was inspired by a conversation with Fran about when’s the right time to open Christmas presents. I sent Fran’s gifts early this year, and she wanted to open them as soon as they arrived. We had a fun time on our video call that evening, each in our matching Santa hats. It was November 27. The fact that I was okay with this shows how much I’ve grown since we first became friends in 2011. In those early years, it was important to me that we open our gifts together at the same time, ideally on Christmas Eve.

I guess I’m attached to the idea of there being a proper time to do things. I buy and wrap gifts in plenty of time — not least because many will be mailed to various locations in the UK and beyond — but the tree and other decorations should go up no earlier than the middle of December. I stock up in advance on festive fayre — mince pies, Christmas cake, chutneys, crackers, crisps (chips) and such — but it’s not to be consumed until a week or so before the big day.

If you’re a regular reader you’ll have noted my use of “should” in the previous paragraph. You’re no doubt thinking “Hmmm… I thought you don’t believe in shoulds!” You’re right, of course. Should implies some shared scale of rightness or propriety. In this case, I have only my personal sense of tradition, and the feeling that celebrations are enhanced by not starting them too early or continuing them too long. Realising that this is personal rather than absolute or universal is what I meant when I said I’d grown. It’s okay that other people feel differently.

My ideas about when things should be done are as valid — no less and no more — as Fran’s or anyone else’s. I like to open presents as close to Christmas Day as possible, but if Fran wants to open hers as soon as they arrive, that’s cool. I send cards in the first week of December, but if my friend wants to mail hers out in the middle of November, that’s good too. (Thank you, Jessie! Yours was the first Christmas card I received this year, and all the more special for that!)

It’s not just Christmas. I celebrate my birthday itself with family, and enjoy a get-together with friends as close to the day as possible. Fran marks her birthday by filling the month in which she was born with things she wants to do, either on her own or with friends. Neither approach is right or wrong. We’re free to mark our birthdays in the ways we wish.

Maybe this all seems obvious, and hardly worth mentioning, let alone discussing at length. I find it interesting, nonetheless. I think it highlights the fact that people have different approaches to the passage of time, and how to mark that passage in ways that are meaningful. I’ve written before about how to reach wise decisions, but deciding when is no less important.

When to send the Christmas cards

When to put up the decorations

When to eat that first mince pie

When to open your presents

These decisions may seem trivial, but each time (pun intended) we make one, we’re putting a little flag in the timeline of our life. Being aware of our time-based decisions and how we make them can help when we have larger flags to place.

When to look for a new job

When to send that letter

When to ask that question

When to end a relationship or start a new one

Being present and correct — or correctly present — is important. It reminds me that not everyone experiences time the way I do, or marks key moments in their lives the ways I’d choose to. I’ve mentioned Fran’s month-long approach to celebrating her birthdays. My friend Aimee celebrates Christmas in a similar way. She starts early (compared to me), visiting Christmas markets and making other festive trips in the weeks beforehand, and posting a new piece to her blog I’m NOT Disordered every day from December 1 until Christmas Day. Preparing those Blogmas posts is a commitment that starts weeks if not months ahead of time. I can’t imagine devoting so much time and effort myself, but I know how much it means to Aimee and how large a part it plays in her experience of Christmas. I love that she includes me in her celebrations, and we get to enjoy the season in ways that meets her expectations and mine.

That’s what it’s about; being aware of ourselves and our needs in the moment, and respectful of the needs of other people. Just the other day, Fran joined me on our usual video call. I was looking forward to a good catch-up, but she was too exhausted to talk. Instead, she asked if we could have some quiet time together while she rested. I was happy to agree. As I’ve written before, sharing quiet moments like this can deepen your friendship. Half an hour later, Fran felt sufficiently refreshed to ask how my day had gone and share a little of her own. It was a lovely example of how paying attention and making the right decision at the right time can enrich our experience.

There’s a connection here to my recent post about Albert Camus and his philosophy of the Absurd as exemplified in The Myth of Sisyphus.

The lesson we can take from Sisyphus — at least as Camus’ presents him — is to become fully aware of the present moment and find happiness there. Find meaning there.

So, whether it’s opening Christmas presents, spending time with a friend, or taking a significant life decision, being conscious of our needs helps us make the most of the current moment. It’s arguably the greatest gift of all. And that, my friends, is why they call it the present.


Photo by Icons8 Team at Unsplash


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