Saturday, December 25, 2004

Christmas Thoughts

I’m not a fan of office gift giving or of gift giving among acquaintances. Within the family it’s a fine thing, although Mr. Jane and I have been known to buy our own presents so that it is more of a surprise to the giver than the recipient. Rest assured the kids get tons of presents. Before you call me a Scrooge, let me explain myself.

I love the holidays. There is nothing better than turning out all the lights except the tree, and listening to Christmas music, except doing that while stretched out on the sofa with a homemade quilt, maybe with a fire in the fireplace. Warm cookies and some cocoa would really complete the experience. We have an advent calendar and the cards we’ve received displayed on the wall. What’s missing from this picture? Shopping and craziness.

Surprises are not welcome in my house unless they involve the arrival of large sums of money or an unexpectedly good report card. I like routine. My holidays are planned. If a holiday event is not on my calendar by mid-October it will probably be skipped. In November Mr. Jane and I take a day off work. While the kids are in school we do 80% of the Christmas shopping. By and large it’s done and we don’t really have to set foot in a retail store other than the grocery for the entire month of December. I address the Christmas cards over the Thanksgiving weekend. It’s great. We take the kids to a toy store to buy a gift each for the church’s children’s home. I buy two gifts for the toy drive at work. This year we packed 10 shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child at church and a few more at scouts. Our annual gift to the Heifer Project was a flock of chicks (cheap cheep!). Two food drives and a partridge in a pear tree. Around New Year’s I pick up wrapping paper and cards on sale and store them for the next holiday. Throughout the year or when I travel I watch for likely gifts on sale. This year I’ll start a box for Operation Christmas Child items in anticipation of packing shoeboxes again.

From December 1 to December 25 all I want to do is bake, eat, enjoy the carols, read Christmas letters, and look at decorations. The artificial tree comes out the weekend after Thanksgiving and stays up until just before the New Year. It is a peaceful, reflective time of year. What happened in the previous 12 months, what might happen in the next. We spend time with extended family, but more often we stay quietly at home. For people religious it is a time of wonder and expectation. None of this involves a sale stampede at the mall.

The small gifts often exchanged at work all too easily become perfunctory. If you treat people well all year additional knickknacks are unnecessary. If you don’t then they won’t make up for it. I feel bad because sometimes people in the office will give me things and I don’t reciprocate. It just reinforces the behavior and ups the ante. I’d rather people spend the money on their families or give it to charity and the time could be better used as well. Throughout the year I bring in donuts or other food items for everyone to share. I try to treat everyone with respect and solve problems where I can. It’s that’s not enough, a token of esteem or affection at Christmas won’t help.

We try to pack too much into too short a period of time, as if this month or day are the only ones that we can use to express our love for others. There are 11 other months and 364 other days. Let’s make it easier on ourselves and space things out a bit. Someone unexpectedly gave my children gifts a few days before Christmas. Instead of running out to find something to give their family, maybe I’ll bake them something next month or for Valentine’s Day.

So if our paths have crossed and you have extended me a holiday gift or taken a special effort on my behalf and I do not seem to have responded, please do not take offense. Throughout the next year I will do my best to look out for your interests and try to show thoughtfulness on your behalf.

On this Christmas Day I wish you all a peaceful heart and the warmth of love and compassion.

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