Christmas is many things and it is celebrated in many different ways but almost universally that celebration includes the giving of gifts. For some, that is a joyful act; for others merely an obligation.
Many people don’t give gifts any more – they trade them.
They calculate how much to spend based on the size of the gift they themselves received the year before. Others try to outdo others with lavish, over-the-top gifts meant to reflect back on the giver rather than give joy to the receiver.
It has become very organized for many. They sign up for Christmas registries and often simply buy whatever is currently trending without thought as to whether it is needed or even wanted. They exchange detailed lists of what they want and from which they invite others to select for them or for their families.
Some even ask you to let them know in advance what you have bought so they can let others know and thereby avoid any duplication on Christmas morning. Many expect you to keep a gift receipt so that the gift can be returned if it is the wrong size, colour or simply not liked.
I’ve never returned a gift in my life. I figure if someone went to the trouble to pick something out for me, pay good money for it, wrap it and give it to me, the least I can do is appreciate the thought behind it even if I can’t fully appreciate or use the gift itself…and I’ve been give a few that took some effort to appreciate.
The truly lazy simply give gift cards. That way they don’t have to waste a lot of time thinking about what you might like. These same folks usually like to receive gift cards too. It doesn’t matter how much is on the card, they know it will go farther at the Boxing Day Sales than it would have if you had spent the same amount buying them something before Christmas. They’re very practical.
Some give nothing but a promise to take everyone out on Boxing Day and buy them more than they would have received if it had been bought before Christmas. For me, the spirit of Christmas starts to get lost in that level of practicality.
It’s a little different with kids, of course, especially for grandparents.
We’re not with them every day and they grow up fast. It’s been a long time since we played with toys and most (but not all) of us are out of touch with what is out there these days. We usually need a little advice on what they might like because we don’t know what it is that has necessarily captured their attention lately and so checking-in with their parents is usually a good idea.
My daughter is very good at giving us a wide range of ideas and leaving it up to us to decide what we would like to get our grandchildren.
This, of course, usually provokes some debate between Maggie and I. She usually opts for the meaningful and well-made gifts while I tend to go for the thing that I would really like to play with myself once we have it assembled. (I always forget the bloody assembly thing until after we get the the things I’ve bought home from the mall). I figure that my grandson and I are about the same age emotionally so if I will enjoy it – I’m reasonably confident that he will too.
I enjoy giving gifts particularly the part about trying to figure out what I think someone I care about would enjoy. I find that the gifts I least enjoy giving are the ones that were simply ticked off a list that was given to me with the expectation that I will buy one or more of them.
Maggie has no idea what I have picked up for her this year and it is starting to drive her crazy because I have gone out of my way to leave the boxes out in the open. My excuse is that I am in the middle of wrapping them but it’s really just to tease her. I know she has too much integrity to open the boxes but she is tempted and that too is part of the fun of it for me.
I hate wrapping gifts although I really like ‘having’ wrapped them no matter how they look when I’m done.
The end of the tape always falls off the part of the dispenser that is supposed to prevent it from falling back on the roll. When that happens – and it always does – it is almost impossible to pull it free again. I have a lot of half-used rolls of tape for anyone who’s interested.
No matter how often I try, I always end up with a piece of wrapping paper I’ve cut that is not big enough for the gift no matter how many different ways I try it or how often I try squeezing the gift box a little tighter.
I put almost as much effort into wrapping gifts as I do in selecting them but they never turn out like they do in the magazine photographs. The paper is usually wrinkled, there’s too much tape and there is almost always a tear in the paper somewhere. The bows don’t stay on unless I staple them to the box and the ribbon I bought either crinkles when I want it to lay straight or won’t crinkle when I want it to.
It gives the gifts I’ve wrapped a somewhat distinctive look under the tree but I content myself with the idea that it is the thought that counts.
At the end of the day, however, the gifts are probably the least important part of Christmas for us. We will enjoy giving and receiving them but there is so much more to our Christmas that it makes you wonder why so much effort is expended on them before Christmas Day or if we’d even miss them if they were no longer part of the festival.
Christmas will start early for us. Maggie’s daughter lost her grandfather two weeks ago and she will be travelling with her father to spend Christmas with her grandmother. It will be a bittersweet Christmas for her and her father’s family so we will celebrate Christmas with her today. We will exchange gifts, make her laugh and then take her to the train station for her trip.
Maggie will cry but in a good way and just a little.
Christmas Eve Maggie and I will spend time at my nephew’s where four generations of my side of the family will gather for the annual get together. From there we will go to the cathedral for Christmas Eve mass and when we get home will connect with Maggie’s brothers and their families in Japan with a video call on Skype.
We’ll be up early Christmas morning so that we can take the short 40-minute drive to my daughter’s to spend Christmas morning with her and our son-in-law and our grandchildren. We’ll watch them open their gifts. I’ll get to play with some of Ben’s new toys and we’ll have a mid-morning breakfast together.
Afterwards, Maggie and I will take a break for some together time and return home while they take the children to visit their other grandparents. We will finally get around to opening our gifts and perhaps grab a short nap before heading back over later in the afternoon for Christmas dinner and the opportunity to play with more of my grandson’s new toys.
That’s what Christmas really is for us. It’s a time when we stop and reconnect with our faith and our family. It’s like a spiritual renewal where we are reminded of the blessings life has bestowed on us. There have been years in my life when it was sometimes difficult to find those blessings until Christmas reminded me.
It is also a time to take a break from the recurring bickering and all the negativity that seems to be so much a part of all of us these days, especially online.
I will sit again this year in our church and during a quieter moment as the choir is singing one of the traditional carols like In The Bleak Midwinter, I will think about Christmas and what it means to me. I will remember those I loved and no longer living with whom I celebrated Christmas throughout my life. We lost Maggie’s mother this year and I know she will be thinking of her mother through that service.
I will think of all the blessings in my life, and I have many that I need to find better ways of sharing; and I will find hope that this time, the spirit of Christmas will go with all of us into the New Year. It doesn’t matter how often that has failed to materialize, I never leave that service without that hope.
For me that is the great gift of Christmas because the other word for Christmas is hope and when we look beyond the presents and the music and the decorations, the turkey dinners and arguing about what to call it; Christmas is the promise that we can dare to hope for a better world. Its gift is the reminder that we can achieve that peace and goodwill if we keep faith with the spirit of Christmas throughout the year.
I know this is true because I see it in people at Christmas and know people who live with Christmas in their hearts all year. It is a gift too many of us forget and do not honour as we should.
I wish you a Merry Christmas and hope Christmas will go with you every day in the New Year and bring you success and prosperity, however you define it.
It appears that we have once again resolved the conflict that was preventing comments from being posted so please feel free to share your thoughts whether you agree or disagree with the opinion stated in this post.
The Hope Found In A Birth Day Never Forgotten
A Letter To Santa From Maggie’s Bear
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