Teenagers are notoriously poor, especially around Christmas. Unless they have jobs, they have no real money to spend on gifts…mainly because they have spent it all on themselves prior to the holiday. My sisters and I were no exception. One year I asked one sister what she was getting me for Christmas. With eyebrows raised, she asked “What did I get you last year?” “Nothing. Niente. Nada. ” I replied huffily. “Three gifts? I gave you three gifts? Wow! Didn’t you like any of them?” By now she was starting to grin. “Not really,” I shot back. “Okay then,” she said, as she turned to walk away. “I’ll get them in another color this time.”
What is this compulsion that has us (okay, has me) running around at 11:45 pm on Christmas Eve, throwing stainless steel, color coded meat tongs into a cart, as a gift for someone I don’t know well enough to know they’re serious vegans? My mother used to say, in answer to my outrage at a gift I didn’t appreciate, “What’s the problem? It’s not your birthday anyway.” Tell that to the friends in the television commercial who sit around a cozy fire, holding up hideous presents they just opened and laughingly, honestly confess to the giver that they are going to destroy them or throw them away.
With the advent of gift cards, giving should be a piece of cake. They cover a range of tastes and interests, although they can be a tad impersonal. However there still will be insincere cries of joy on Christmas morning for the SpongeBob tie (my apologies to those who love their Sponge ties), the belly button brush or the supersized box of taffy for Granny and her new dentures. Is it really the thought that counts, even if those “thoughtful” people were behind me in the line at 11: 55 pm, waiting to buy the ugly snowman salt and pepper set, as a last ditch effort?
Lest you think I am Scrooge reborn and my sister’s miserly attitude has scarred me for life, please know that I love giving and receiving gifts. However, these days, I crave meaning in the giving and the getting. At my advanced age, I have enough stuff; what touches me most are gifts of caring, time, creativity and sacrifice. (Did I mention that cookies, cakes, pies and other goodies are never despised?) My granddaughter (remember, poor teenager) once gave me the gift of a leisurely, home style pedicure. Not only did I get a pedicure but I got genuine conversation, which I enjoyed and appreciated. If you have a teen, you know conversation can be rare and very costly. Also, it was doubly special because I know she isn’t all that fond of handling other people’s feet.
My gift to you is the suggestion that you read—or re-read—O’Henry’s The Gift of the Magi. If you become depressed with every garland or light you string up, with every foray into the mall; if you have sung as many stanzas of Jingle Bells as you can stand and even the mellow Nat King Cole’s Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire is starting to pall, this incredible short story will rekindle the joy of this season. There are many other stories and movies that tell us that Jo, in Little Women, was wrong when she said “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents.” Look below and pick a favorite.