There is only one gift I remember receiving as a child that has carried its emotional content through to this day. When I look back, I realize that it wasn’t the gifts that gave me my memories, but the lessons that I learned at Christmas time. (As I always think of myself as having rather mundane or ordinary reactions to the world around me, I thought I would share, to perhaps give current parents the permission to NOT focus on gifts–although, shhhhh, gifts are important, too.)
Perhaps its cheating, but living on a ranch, I already had my horse. I’m just declaring this at the onset so you know that I never asked for a pony….or a puppy . . . .or a kitten. These were pretty much standard issue ranch playmates. What I asked for was ice skates, and I received ice skates from Santa, for several years in a row. It was great in having new ice skates that fit my growing feet. But more important, I learned
Lesson #ONE: The art of being SNEAKY and DETERMINED–or rather–How to prepare myself for the UNKNOWN. I didn’t hurt anyone and I loved the mystery and the drama. You see, I just had to know what Santa was bringing me. I had to know so I could either act surprised and be happy, or at least prepare myself not to seem let down and mopy. There weren’t a lot of hiding places for my parents to use, and their closet became a prime suspect for all things hidden at Christmas. It wasn’t easy to be alone for long enough in the house to search their closest without getting caught, but somehow I took my very life in my hands and pushed through the fear to find those new ice skates. To this day, I know that if I can psychologically prepare myself for the unknown, I’ll stand a much better chance of reacting with grace and composure.
One of the most enjoyable parts of Christmas centered around the gathering of family. It may have at my Grandparents big ranch house, which held the whole family, or it may have been the dinner at our small house, with everyone stuffed inside two rooms, the kitchen and living room. But wherever we congregated was sure to be filled with food and laughter. Then Uncle Bert gave Grandma a small package, which is where I found . . .
Lesson #TWO: Gifts are better given and received when there is Love and Playfulness involved. Each year, when the whole family gathered at Grandma’s, everyone received one gift (children usually got a silver dollar from Grandpa). And each year, someone would give a gift that surprised and delighted the recipient. Then the year came when Uncle Bert presented Grandma with a huge wrapped box. Inside that box was another wrapped box and another and another and another. The suspense was so great that even the children became quiet and watchful. Finally Grandma got to the very last, very small wrapped box. I have no memory of what was in that last box. I just remember the twinkling of eyes, the gush of sentiment, and the total immersion of everyone in the family with that unwrapping of boxes. It was truly a gift of love, a gift of memory.
Then there was the Christmas that saw us at our poorest. Cash money was difficult to find, especially for anything not considered a necessity. We had moved from the ranch to the city. Grandma had died earlier that year, which left us with no large box of Christmas packages to place under the tree. I remember it being the first time that we didn’t take out a Monkey Wards catalog and make long wish lists. Our whole family knew that this was going to be a “skimpy” Christmas. No one asked for anything. Which brings us to my . . .
Lesson # THREE: Going through hard times together can bring a family closer, if everyone understands the “why” of the circumstances. The tree was really sparse for presents. Nothing hiding in the branches and few wrapped parcels on the floor. We didn’t even go through the usual routine of counting them each day after school. We already could see that nothing had changed. I remember focusing on what we would be eating for Christmas morning (Mom’s cinnamon rolls, of course) and for dinner (turkey with Mom’s tomato aspic). We didn’t rush to open the few presents we had. We each took turns, trying hard to feel happy that we had received whatever it was we were given. To this day, I treasure my little white leather bible, with a zipper and my name embossed in gold. I had never asked for a bible, had I? But somehow my parents knew that this one gift would mean more to me than all the ice skates and fancy gloves.
Be gentle with yourself and those you love during the Holidays–looking for love is the gift to give to yourself and others.