It’s the season of giving. The children write letters to Santa, while we agonize over gifts. What to buy, where to buy, how to wrap the presents, how to ship them, how to make sure I do not repeat what I gave last year; how to not appear embarrassingly generous or too cheap, all this puts the mind on an endlessly turning hamster wheel. And then, of course, there are the holiday cards, neatly stacked and waiting to be written, stamped and addressed.
My wife keeps long lists: our adult children and their spouses, the grandchildren, the godchildren, the children of the young man who hosts my website for free, the daughters of our nice friend who fixes our computers, some of our doctors, our best friends, the friend in Romania who struggles, the ones in Denmark we befriended thirty-five years ago, the relatives in Israel who celebrate Hanukkah, the postman, the newspaper delivery man, the cleaning lady, the former cleaning lady who is in a home, and on and on.
The number of requests for donations grows exponentially in December. When did “giving Tuesday” become a thing? It’s the last opportunity of the year to make tax-deductible contributions and one has to think about all the worthy causes. Not all people are as blessed as we are; there is poverty in the world, climate change, disasters.
Our adult children have decided that this year they won’t put up with the hustle of holiday travel. This means my wife and I will be spending Christmas with friends. I resolved: no Christmas tree and no lights outside; no hams, cookies or cakes; maybe a few Christmas movies and several bottles of wine; a box of chocolates, and no Christmas cards. Every year my wife says we won’t write them, and then, every year, once we start receiving the nice cards, she changes her mind.
The downtown area is crowded. The parking lots around the mall are full. Restaurants require reservations days in advance. It’s wet and cold outside, and it gets dark before five o’clock.
Inside it is warm and the fireplace is on by remote control and electronic switch. Amazon lights up the screen. Better to shop at home, malls are so yesterday. Electronic cards help. No paper to waste, no paper to recycle. Still, even by digital means, preparing for Christmas is a full time job.
‘Don’t think about it as chores,’ my wife says. ‘Think of the pleasure your giving brings to others. Think what the people in our lives represent.. There is an art in choosing thoughtful presents. What was the present you least expected and pleased you the most?’
Wow, that’s not easy to answer. I could get philosophical and, using a cliché, say that the most important present I have ever received was my life. Then everything follows: a healthy and happy childhood, a good education and professional career, a love story, a good marriage, smart and beautiful children, a nice house in the suburbs, peaceful old age. But I don’t need Christmas for that. Nor do I need Thanksgiving. I can be thankful for my gifts every day. And every day, I remember the sad moments as well — the childhood friends who perished prematurely, the deaths of our parents, the brush with disease and the rejections and setbacks at work.
When I think of material gifts, those that are truly memorable are few. Who it was that gave me those gifts becomes more important. Still, from the haze of the past, I can select a few: the nice ski jacket, the book on pairing chocolate and wines, the latest Pulitzer winning novel, a great bottle of wine.
The other day the first Christmas cards filled our mailbox like a first snow. My daughter-in-law’s parents sent us a Christmas card — their names are always on the list. Friends who retired to Florida sent a card, and so did our financial advisor, our newspaper deliveryman and friends from all over the country and the world. The list is long, and that is a good thing.
The days pass quickly: rainy and gray, one after the other after the next. It’s the middle of December and Christmas is now only ten days away. I want to keep the holiday simple, yet the closer we get to it, the stronger the restlessness that I feel in my veins. The more people reach out to me — friends, family, neighbors, tennis buddies and workmates — I am grateful and ready to reach out to them.
I guess that is the true gift of Christmas.
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