The Augusta Civic Center. Credit: Courtesy of Augusta Civic Center

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The proposition was one of those that’s hard to decipher — was it real or was it a satirical comment on the times?

After four years of a President Donald Trump, is there even such a thing as satire any longer?

“We could meet in the Civic Center parking lot in Augusta and exchange gifts,” was the idea floated.

It’s a location about halfway between my house and my in-laws. It would be an outdoor affair, maybe with a thermos of hot chocolate and folding chairs.

When I was a kid, Christmas morning was a free-for-all flurry of wrapping paper and chaos. It’s different with my wife’s family.

A person is selected — and often replaced for dereliction of duty — to distribute each gift under the tree in a timely and equitable manner. During the opening ceremony, attention must be paid, the gift examined and ultimately lauded. It matters not if it’s a gift card, a singing bass or the original Maltese falcon.

It’s slow and for younger kids (even teenagers), it can be almost intolerable. But each gift and the thoughtfulness behind it are recognized. And in the wisdom that comes with age, I appreciate the slower pace and a process that feels less like a race to the end and more like a slow meander to good tidings.

When I was a kid, the living room looked like a wrapping paper factory had become caught up in a cyclone. And at the end, on more than one occasion, we recreated the havoc looking for a critical piece, set of instructions or whole toy that had been lost in the whirlwind.

Needless to say, I’m not sure that an empty parking lot is the best venue for an elongated gift exchange.

Most years, we host a small gathering at our house on Christmas Eve and then after opening presents head north for the day, usually staying the night before coming home. That’s not the plan this year. COVID-19 is serious and deadly, even as the first doses of vaccine are being delivered. We’re not going to put family and friends outside our bubble at risk.

Of course, it all adds to the stress. At about this time every year I start to realize that there are just a few days until Christmas and that I’ve utterly failed as a friend, father and husband. There’s no Lexus in the driveway with a big red bow (or shiny pair of GMCs like in the commercial). No magical necklace with the perfect inscription. No PlayStation 5.

It’s made-up stress, not like the kind where you’re worried about having food to eat or making the rent. It’s the kind of stress that comes with being lucky and having privilege. A worry that in hindsight feels silly every year.

But worry, nonetheless. Afterall, Christmas is less than 10 days away.

When I first start shopping — especially when it comes to my wife — I fret over finding that thing that will express nearly 25 years of love with not a word said. By the 10-days-to-Christmas mark, I’m beginning to think that nothing says love like a KitchenAid mixer attachment that makes fancy pasta and warm socks.

Christmas, like Thanksgiving, is going to be different this year. What’s needed is a pandemic-induced recalibration of holiday habits.

I have a plan: I’m going to do my best to put my self-imposed worry on hold; I’m going to support local businesses as much as I can; I’m going to pour the wine glass a little fuller, kiss my wife and hug my kids a little longer; take my time opening my presents.

And maybe, set up some chairs in a parking lot somewhere between Portland and Holden to drink some hot chocolate, exchange gifts and laugh at a year few of us will be sad to see go.

Merry Christmas, happy holidays. May you find peace, love and joy whether you’re in front of a fire at home or celebrating six feet apart between the parking lot lines somewhere in Augusta.

David Farmer

David Farmer

David Farmer is a political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children. He was senior adviser to Democrat Mike Michaud’s campaign for governor and a longtime journalist....