If you're an adult, the news that Christmas is less than eight weeks away probably fills you with dread rather than joyful anticipation. First, there's society's pressure to create the "Perfect Stress-Free Holiday" (Now there's an oxymoron for you). Then come the endless preparations, shopping, cooking, cleaning, decorating, cards, office parties, teacher gifts, grab gifts, office gifts, family gifts. Hmm, that's a lot of gifts, and therein lies the source of much of that dread — at least for me.
My family is scattered through the U.S.: Texas, Florida, Ohio, New Hampshire as well as Massachusetts, so you can add overpriced shipping costs to my list of things I'm not looking forward to this year. For the past five years or so, hearing the annual comments about how expensive everything is and how bad the economy is, I've suggested that we curtail Christmas spending by finding some alternate to our current system of everyone buying gifts for everyone else. Between family and friends, that's about 30 gifts I have to buy every year. Every year my family agrees with me and every year we keep on all buying gifts for each other like we always have. Picking names or "only buying for the kids" doesn't work because we aren't all together on Christmas and there is only one "kid" — my niece.
Well, folks, you're hearing it here first — this year will be different out of economic necessity. I just don't have a choice. Think about the best gifts you've ever given or received, the ones that you still remember clearly even though years have passed. Did they cost a lot of money or did they involve the giver carefully and thoughtfully choosing something he or she knew you would love? The best gifts I ever gave were a scrapbook of childhood family photos that I put together for my oldest brother, Brett. It was a labor of love and he was thrilled — and the year I flew to Ohio to spend Mother's Day weekend with my mom, who had no idea I was coming. The best gift I ever got was the double album (with free poster) "Donny Osmond Superstar" at about age 12. It was what I wanted more than anything and my uncle Mark bought it for me. I still remember being overjoyed and insisting that we listen to it right then and there. That prompted my grandfather's droll quip, still quoted in my family some 35 years later: "Who's this Johnny Osmond character anyway?"
This Christmas my gifts will hopefully be well-chosen expressions of my love and affection for the recipient rather than the admittedly easier and more expensive option of clicking on his or her Amazon wish list. I have a friend whose treasured family photos are in an album with those adhesive pages that will eventually destroy the photos. I've arranged with his wife to "steal" the album so I can transfer his photos to an acid-free scrapbook and give it to him for Christmas. My friend Sue, who loves the Patriots almost as much as I do, is getting a framed collage of pictures taken at different Patriots-related events we've gone to together. In the end, it's not the gifts that matter.
Do you even remember who gave you what book or DVD last year? No. We remember the moments, priceless memories made with family and friends. I remember the year my grandfather, famous for his "Charlie Brown" Christmas trees always purchased at the last minute, decided to rearrange the scanty branches by sawing and drilling holes to make a more attractive tree. I remember caroling as a child every Christmas Eve with my family and my mother says that I sang "Sing We All Noel" as "Stinkweed on the Well." I remember that my oldest brother thought the three Wise Men in our nativity scene were called the "Wise Guys." I remember the first Christmas after my Nana died when I filled a stocking for my grandfather and he claimed for months afterward that every time he went looking for something like aspirin or a safety pin, he had only to reach into that stocking and there it was, like magic. The holidays aren't about material things, they are about giving thanks for what we have, celebrating those whom we love, doing something to help those less fortunate, and gathering together to celebrate the birth of Christ — or whatever spiritual customs your particular faith observes.
I have a milestone birthday coming up in a couple of weeks. The only thing I want for my birthday is for my oldest brother Brett, whom I have not seen in six years, to fly up from Florida. I'm trying not to be disappointed if he can't manage it, but if he can, the joy of seeing him will surpass even the thrill of receiving that Donny Osmond album (which I still own, by the way).
I wish all of you a joyful, meaningful holiday season filled with love and laughter and continuing reminders of what this season is truly about.