Merry Christmas! And yes I do celebrate it despite my ambiguous religious philosophy. The world needs more celebrations, so I’m grabbing them as they go by. When’s Buddha’s birthday? As I’ve aged, matured, gotten older, the pile of presents around the tree has shrunk, and yet, the holiday and its gifts mean more to me.
Back in the bad old Dark Ages they had something right. Just about every other day was a holiday. (Wish I could find the attribution for that, but it was from a PBS show about twenty years ago.) They worked from dawn to dusk, unless they had the entire day off for a saint’s day or to commemorate some event. They worked harder than people today, but they also had more time off. They had time, but they didn’t have money. Their gifts were small, handmade, and they didn’t come in stacks.
I remember piles of presents back in my childhood. Sorting through to find the From:s and To:s and then distributing boxes around the room to everyone’s selected seat for the morning. Eventually the ripped wrapping paper would be piled high enough to bury a few unopened presents and a mining expedition would be launched to locate the lost toys or overlooked socks. I think I still have unopened boxes of handkerchiefs.
Every year the task got harder. People get older, and but their own things. What does anyone get any well-paid person? Today’s working American has probably already bought more luxury items in a year than a peasant owned in their life, and for the peasant, a dozen tube socks would be a major prize.
One year, for the fun of it, I gave my Dad a Nerf ball. My mom didn’t understand why a man in his twenties would buy his dad a spongy ball. At which point he and I started throwing at each other, and started laughing.
It was the simple thing, the small gift that appealed the most.
I’m over fifty. Family is scattered, and I celebrate my own traditions, including at Christmas. I mimic a bit of my mom’s cooking by baking a ham and cooking up a few other side dishes. The lights are up, though only a few strands because my house and yard are small. That’s all I need and want. The tree is only a five footer. I picked a small one because it is still alive and will be replanted as a donation in a deforested area. Live trees are heavy. My back agrees that small is good. The presents around the tree make the smallest collection ever, but I know that the ones I’ve added for myself are just what I want. I don’t know about the others yet. They’re still wrapped.
Getting to know myself has helped me realize that, for me, some $200 sweater isn’t as appreciated as a good $20 walking stick. Socks really are good gifts, especially those expensive hiking ones that are big enough for my size 14 feet. I also realize that things that are just trinkets can accumulate. There’s a limit to how many Nerf balls a small house can hold. But food, really good food, may not last long, but it will be savored. One treat I give myself is to run around to the local winery, and the local seafood/smokehouse and stock up on fine victuals. Smoked salmon. Yum.
Heart-warming gifts are the things that can’t be wrapped. Friends dropping by. Great conversations. A walk after every meal, and maybe singing carols as if no one could hear.
We’ve been through some tough times. Despite its Christian basis, I think this particular Christmas is a celebration and a sigh of relief for many non-Christians too who didn’t think they’d get through the economic slump. Many are still waiting for the good days, and I hope they find them. That’s the handy thing about society and community, the ones that reach solid ground can help the others.
The ads for cars and wall-sized TVs may help the sales of really big ribbons, but I suspect that the small gifts, a smile, a donation, an open door, a hug, are bigger and better than all the rest.