Christmas is over. Gifts have been given and received. Our family is lucky – everyone has a job they like and we can afford to give each other gifts. Since many of us gather to celebrate together (10 this year, an unusually small number), there were many presents to open. We open one by one, with lots of oohing and ahhing, taking time to appreciate each gift.
That made me wonder – what makes a perfect gift?
A perfect gift might be on your Christmas list. I hoped for a hand-held Dremel tool for my home refinishing projects. My daughter Mae put books at the top of her list. Much to our delight, both were under the tree. Not much surprise, but Christmas wishes fulfilled.
My wife Liz had put warm pajamas on her list, and was very happy to receive a pair. But much better was the photograph of a Wisconsin barn from our children and their partners, framed in barn wood, bought in Indiana and transported to Minneapolis. It was wrapped in the biggest package under the tree, which occasioned much comment and anticipation. Even before it was opened, the gift was already a hit. Since Liz loves pictures of barns, that present was pretty near perfect.
There might be something that you haven’t put on your list, but for which you have your fingers crossed. Maybe it costs more than you could ask anybody to spend. Or it would be best as a surprise. Mae’s grandmother Janet gave her a cast iron pot, too expensive to put on a list or maybe even to hope for, but perfect for a young household where cooking is important.
Perhaps perfection lies in the effort of the giver. My nieces Jane and Helen and my sister-in-law Pat pickled peppers and made flavored mustards. Long after Christmas, even into warm summer days, I will taste their love and generosity.
Practical gifts can be perfect, too. Marti, my brother-in-law’s mother, gave me LED light bulbs, still expensive but the wave of the future. They’ll last for years and perhaps shift my bulb-buying habits.
One of the first gifts opened was a book on making pies for Jane, a talented and enthusiastic baker. Every time I looked at her, she was reading another recipe, lost in an imagined world of sweet smells and beautiful desserts. She didn’t ask for it, nor need it. When we taste one of those pies some time in the future, we’ll all remember that gift, how it united two people in the shared joy of Christmas giving.
These thoughtful gifts, and many others, brought us all together in appreciation of our good fortune and of each other. Perfection does not require expense or size. The best gift might be anonymous. Dropping coins into the Salvation Army bucket or writing a check to another charity which supports the poor is especially important this season, when more Americans are in great need than at any time since the Depression. Charitable givers just have to imagine the joy of those who might be able to buy a warm coat for a child or put a festive meal on the table.
Unfortunately, a recent poll showed that Americans plan to give less to charity this holiday season, due to the economy. Perhaps that attitude is reflected in the recent Congressional decision not to extend unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed. Christmas giving can be selfish, too.
Marti gave me a tiny book of Chinese wisdom. More than two thousand years ago, before Christmas and Christ, Lao Tse wrote about the perfect gift: “Kindness in giving creates love.”
Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, December 31, 2013