In O'Henry's wonderful short story, "Gift of the Magi," a poor young couple struggle through Christmas and the quandary of finding the perfect gift. She has long, lustrous hair. He has a treasured old pocket watch. She sells her hair to buy him a watch chain. He sells his watch to buy a fine comb for her hair. The perfect gifts, no longer relevant. But, a perfect love story.
Every year, as Christmas rolls around, families go into debt trying to purchase the perfect gifts for their loved ones. Thanks to our ever more gadget crazy society, many of those gifts are expensive and can only be purchased at stores and retailers that aren't local.
For the last week, I've been receiving the Santa letters from the kids for our December 19 Christmas edition of the paper. These young kids have been asking for iPads, iPhones, XBox game consoles, wide-screen televisions and programmable gadgets. A quick search through the stores in Mason will reveal that most of these items are not available for purchase while shopping at home. A quick glance at the cost of those items will reveal that bank accounts may need a bit of a recharge in order to afford those same items.
I've told friends that one of the most memorable Christmas gifts for me remains a croquet set that was given to Connie, Steve and I one year when we were very young. We opened our gifts on Christmas eve, and we were already trying to set up the playing field that night. By Christmas morning, the yard on the east side of the house was laid out with all the wickets and sticks and we were quickly learning how to play the game. That croquet set lasted us for years, and made a huge impression.
In later years, we received bicycles, stereos, rifles and clothes. As great as all those things were, the "new" wore off quickly as we moved on to the next best thing. These days, it's become difficult to buy gifts, as everyone already has everything. When I'm trying to pick out gifts, they are either out of my price range, or the recipient already has the item, or something very much like it.
The other day, some friends and I were flipping through channels when we happened upon "The Pioneer Woman" on one of the cooking channels. She was helping her children make cookies shaped like their hands. They then decorated the hands with rings, gloves, fingernail polish and more. The finished cookies were delivered to grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and neighbors. It was a very personal, very inexpensive gift. The recipients were all visibly moved and excited at their gifts.
Here in Mason, I've received some gifts like those. Jars of baked goods. Personal poems. Framed photos. Wooden utensils. Welded boot scrapers. The creativity of my family and friends never ceases to amaze me.
In lean years, I've also seen skills of other sorts given as a gift. I've helped friends repair their computers. I've had other friends who fixed cars, chopped wood, built cattle pens, cleaned houses and even washed windows. A gift is something given that the recipient either doesn't have, or doesn't have the ability to obtain, or that they need; but, have had to refrain from obtaining in favor of other priorities. The value of a gift needn't be based upon its commercial value. If you've ever had someone stop and help you fix a flat when you're stranded on the side of the road, you understand just how valuable some gifts can be.
Open your hearts and minds this Christmas to discover just how important the simplest gifts can and should be in our lives. Find a way to give gifts that will make a difference to the recipient; but, without worrying about how much it costs. And find a way to receive gifts from the heart by changing the expectations we have set for ourselves and for the things we think are important.
The first Christmas gift was the warmth of a stable. Should we really expect to ever surpass the generosity and importance of that gift with something that has lights, transistors and relays?
It’s all just my opinion.