OK. By now the shouting has died down. The shop clerks have stopped trembling from Holiday Overload (and started drinking from Returns Hell). The batteries in that screeching toy that Grandma sent (to get back at you for not visiting for a whole month in August) have run down. In a few days the first bars of Jingle Bell Rock won’t inspire homicidal fantasies. Lets talk about the true meaning of Christmas.
I do not refer to the birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Most Biblical scholars agree that, so far as it can be pinpointed, he was born some other time of the year, possibly in summer. Christmas is a political holiday, placed in the dark of the year to supersede Pagan holidays … and if you’ve ever really thought about Woton’s character, I think you will agree that that was A Good Thing, even if you are an atheist. So, Christmas is what we have made it over the centuries.
Overall, I like the family gatherings (in sensible moderation), the general good cheer, and the slight falling off of the levels of Sex and Violence blared at me from every surface that can be made to support a flatscreen TV. And, of course, the presents. But I have learned, over the years, that GETTING presents, even presents you desperately wanted, is nothing compared to the pleasure of GIVING presents, when you have picked the right ones.
I don’t remember how old I was when I first gave a present that really had an impact; sometime in my teens. I DO remember what the present was, and who I gave it to. My Father was primarily a scholar, but he was also a woodworker as a hobby, and he loved good tools. For years my Mother and I had conspired to get him a few good tools every year, and they were always a hit. One year, though, I was seized by the idea of getting him a knife. He had a penknife that he used all the time, but it was a fiddly little thing. I had seen a Buck Folding Hunter, with wood inlay, and I could just about afford to get it with my own money. If I had gone to my mother, she would have been happy to give me the money to buy it for him, but I decided I wanted to buy this all on my own. He was delighted. He kept that knife by him for the rest of his life, and used it every day. It gave him real pleasure, and that showed. I still have that knife. When he passed, just a couple of years ago, I made sure that it didn’t get lost in the shuffle. It lives in my tool drawer, and whenever I see it, it makes me happy to remember that Christmas.
Every year I try to give presents like that. I don’t succeed every year, or even every five years, but the effort is great fun in itself, and the occasional success is just wonderful. This year I have started to ask “Did you give any good presents?” instead of “Did you GET any good presents?”. It perks people right up. Even if they don’t have a story from this year, they frequently have a treasured success they want to share from years past.
I’m not against gift cards, mind. We get a number every year, and use them happily, and try to remember to tell people what we got with them. But I think I pity the people I run into who only give gift cards. They are missing so much.