The Greatest Gift

Since his first grandson was born, my father and I pack the car with gifts and travel north to spend Christmas with my brother and his family. Work is extra busy each December and with limited time, I never bother to find a tree or decorate our house. Arriving at our destination on December 23, we find their tree is trimmed, stockings hung, and baking completed. Time is spent distracting the little ones with long walks or make believe games to keep their anticipation in check until Christmas morning when gleeful exuberance erupts sending scraps of wrapping paper and ribbon flying, but this year our holiday hosts set off to tour warmer climates, and Dad, at 84 (and not in great health), didn’t feel up for the trip. As the others planned their adventure, I felt frustrated, knowing I couldn’t leave Dad behind, but yearning to join their holiday adventure. What would the season bring without the children here to make it merry and bright?

It turns out, despite the chill of winter, this Christmas has been one of the most enjoyable and memorable in a long time. I didn’t realize how much I’d been given by staying behind. I selected and trimmed the tree. I hung lights around the windows. I planned meals full of our favorite foods while listening to old fashioned Christmas songs by Burl Ives, Bing Crosby, and Nat King Cole. At night, Dad and I sit by the fire, admire the tree, and remark on the pictures streaming through my tablet of the grandchildren splashing in the waves at a beach far away. We’ve reviewed our year, reminisced about Christmases past, and begun looking forward to what will come. This Christmas might very well be Dad’s last, and the peace we’ve enjoyed together has been a true delight. I realize that I’m not missing out on a tropical paradise, everyone else is missing out on the beauty, joy, and gratitude of home. My special Christmas with Dad has been the greatest gift I could imagine.

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The Season of Giving

Christmas shopping is done. Gifts are wrapped. Now we wait, with anticipation, for the unwrapping. I start shopping early (August) because I take time and carefully consider each person on my list. The kids are easy so I usually save them for last, but because it is important for me to get everyone something they will really appreciate, I find the entire holiday shopping experience a bit stressful.

“It’s the thought that counts,” right? But that is exactly my point. I want my gift to demonstrate the level of thought.

The Santa side of Christmas thrives on the multitude of options available to elicit the trademark joyous expressions on the faces of small children Christmas morning. An oversized stuffed animal, legos, a life like doll, or in the case of my nephew this year-those roller skate sneakers. I opted not for the plain gray generic pair, but instead went with Heely’s designed like a red race car. They even have headlights that light up. It doesn’t matter that he is five and those shoes cost more than any pair I’ve ever bought for myself, or that he will outgrow them in 6 months. I know on Christmas morning when he opens that box that I will have given him the greatest present EVER, at least until he opens the next one…

“Tis better to give than to receive” is easy to believe in when the kids are so happy.

Recreating the same joy and excitement for adults is nearly impossible. With my mom, I knew if she cried, that was a good thing. Even though I would have preferred a smile, tears were her genuine form of emotional expression. Dad, always quiet and serene, still reveals his truest opinion about a gift by his actions. The longer he hangs onto it without setting it aside, the closer I’ve come to success. My brother always has a snarky comment for each gift he opens (except the ones from his wife), but never achieving the same awestruck reaction from grown ups as I do with kids is disappointing for me-especially because I’ve put in four times the effort to find the adults something they might appreciate. Should I give up my quest and get gift cards for everyone?

“We must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.” The Harry Potter series shares a lot of universal truths.

I don’t want to gift like a hack. Bah humbug to the safe/generic present. This year, like every year I remind myself that the non-Santa side of this holiday is about the birth of Jesus. We share gifts in recognition for the gift we (Christians) were given by the birth of God’s son, and since nothing I can buy in a store is going to top the gift of life, my gift giving should simply strive to reflect the love I feel for those receiving (even if they aren’t jumping up and down with joy).

True expressions of love in whatever form are the only gifts that really matter. Merry Christmas to all.