With Thanksgiving over, I am contemplating Christmas.
I’m not sure how to relate to holiday-giving this year. In decades past, my husband and I have completely indulged our children and grandchildren, frequently being more extravagant than was wise.
It was such fun — at least, I think it was.
I recall those festive, gift-laden Christmas moments fondly. But I also remember feeling a little empty at the point the nonrecyclable wrapping paper was helter-skelter across the living room, and adults were looking on in exhausted disbelief.
One year I felt the need to dramatically reconsider excess and created a multitiered puppet theater out of cardboard boxes and magic marker colorings. I thought it was a remarkable gift — my husband thought it “took up a lot of space,” but he made the comment kindly.
Nobody played with it. My daughter-in-law (bless her) tried to encourage interest, but there was little to be had. The mountain of children we had with us that year did play with the many puppets I’d made (and purchased); they created intriguing stories with elaborate dialogues. All was not lost. The cardboard puppet structure did not beckon, but I sure had fun making it. Lesson learned, I hope.
The question remains, what does one do when you want Christmas to have more meaning? What do you do to ensure you create the best kind of embedded memories?
A few years ago we sent out a not-very-merry indication to our children saying we preferred no presents be exchanged. Our son shot back, “No presents? We have to have presents, it’s not Christmas without presents!”
One of our daughters sighed (it is actually possible to sigh in written correspondence) and observed, “Mom, you say that every year …”
Our other daughter, the one who always sends gifts late with elaborate apologies, had no response — clever girl, thinking ahead, I suspect.
Remember O. Henry’s short story, "Gift of the Magi?" The need to exchange gifts was so intense for the in-love young couple that she sold her long brown hair, and he sold the watch he had inherited from his father to have money for an exchange of gifts. The real story about the Magi is even better — you probably remember them, three wise men at a manger. Some say they invented the art of giving.
If any of my children or grandchildren are reading this column, be advised that I have rescinded the no-gift ultimatum. I never really implemented it, as one of you will assuredly remind me. Hopefully, you will do that gently.
I have a new plan. It comes with advice to all — not just my own family. This year, all year long, not just during the Christmas season, let’s decide to reach out to each other and to our communities with our own gifts of time and talent. Maybe we make a contribution to a favored nonprofit organization or offer hands-on help with a project for the homeless. Perhaps we put extra dollars in the church offering plate? Make visits to a homebound elder?
Gift yourself in this way — something that keeps on giving.
— Sharon Johnson is a retired Oregon State University associate professor. Reach her at Sharon@agefriendlyinnovators.org.