Schroedinger’s Presents

Big ol’ pile of symbolic uncertainty under that tree.

“Look, Mom- presents!” 

The boy, maybe four or five years old, could be forgiven for his excitement: in the lobby of the building there stood an ornate Christmas tree under which stood a bounty of gifts wrapped in color- coordinated papers.

“They’re fake presents. They’re just for decoration.” Mom told him, fixed upon whatever appointment she was inn the building to keep, and unwilling to get sidetracked. 


If mom had an answer for this, it was lost behind the elevator doors. Why, indeed? What a strange practice: to wrap empty boxed purely for the decorative value of having a profusion of gifts beneath a tree. I can understand that the gesture is a symbolic one: the wrapped boxes representing gifts and acts of giving which may or may not actually fit beneath a Christmas tree in the lobby of a building open to the public. Like the tree itself, the empty presents are more an acknowledgement of the season than a specific gesture of celebration. 

The obvious conclusion one might reach about the presence of empty presents is that it represents evidence of the hollowing out of the holiday traditions: that the holidays themselves have become a series of empty gestures performed with twinkle lights and colorful paper, signifying nothing. The more that I thought about it, the more that this seemed like an incomplete answer: after all, if there was truly no meaning behind the gesture, why have the presents at all? To cover the base of the tree? A tree skirt could do the same thing and would require much less effort and storage space for essentially the same amount of decoration. Besides- aren’t the most meaningful gifts of the holiday season supposed to be the ones that don’t fit into boxes anyway: Peace on earth, good will towards man, and so on? A box full of good will is likely to be just as empty as a box full of hollow gestures. Perhaps the box is big enough to contain both. Perhaps, like Schroedinger’s cat, the only way to tell whether the gifts are empty of meaning or full of the Christmas spirit would be to open them to observe the contents, but since the boxes are never meant to be opened, it is appropriate to say that either state might be the truth: Schroedinger’s gifts.

 Perhaps this is true of more than just decorative gifts, too. Perhaps there are elements of human experience which may or may not have the depth of meaning that we would like to ascribe to them, but to observe them directly would be to destroy them. Perhaps this business of empty presents is deeper than ‘just decoration’ would suggest.

~ by Gwydhar Gebien on December 21, 2016.

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