Here’s another take on that Christmas gift giving habit from a column I wrote in 2002.
That Christmas Habit Dorothy Wilhelm©2002
“Habit is what gets me through,” Bob tells me firmly. He says everything firmly. I bumped into this retired bachelor in the potato section at Albertson’s. You meet the most interesting people in the Produce Department. Bob doesn’t hesitate to tell me that he is 76 years old but somehow he’s managed to keep a spring in his step and a cherubic altar boy twinkle in the eye. He is usually followed by a retinue of ladies.
“Habit” he tells me again. “The same steps to start the day. Every day. I don’t think about it. I just get up and do it. That’s the secret. That’s what keeps me going.” You should write a column about that.” Well, that makes sense when I think about it. After all, I start each day at 6:00 a.m. with several cups of hot coffee followed by a prolonged struggle with my Super Strength Support Hose and by – oh – 10:30 a.m. I’m awake. At least I know what to count on.
I guess Bob’s right. Habit is what gets us over the sticky spots. And most days I’m fine with that.
Then on the day after Thanksgiving a flock of sales circulars arrived in the mail, weighing only slightly less that the festive day’s turkey. The Christmas shopping season had started. It meant sifting through ads and trying to find just the right gift for people who don’t need gifts at all.
Bob has the answer to this, too. “I don’t give gifts at Christmas. Too commercial,” he says firmly. “Years ago, I wrote to all of my friends and said, ‘Don’t give me any gifts. I won’t be sending you any.’ ” And that, he believes, has left room for the real Christmas to come into his life.
A crowd had gathered by this time.They seemed pretty much agreed that the holiday season is about time spent with people you love, not about reeling in the loot. Well, most were agreed. Some people were actually trying to get some shopping done and one lady said she personally was hoping to have her kitchen remodeled for Christmas. Everyone scowled at her and she slunk away.
I certainly wasn’t going to say anything at a time like that but I have a confession to make. I know it’s trivial and shallow but face it, I am trivial and shallow. The fact is, I love piles of presents; wrapped packages, secrets, and hiding things in the closet. I just want them to mean something.
The best gifts are the ones which connect me to the giver. I like tickets to the theater – and someone who’ll go along to share the play. There’s nothing like a warm robe to wrap up in (If you put it in the dryer for just five minutes before you put it on, it’s almost as good as a hug from the giver). Pictures of the grand kids in a special frame to hang on the tree is a great gift.
The best gifts I’ve given, I think, are the ones that carried some part of me: my high school charm bracelet passed on to a sixteen year old grand daughter; stories read into the tape recorder for a small grandson. My mother kept small packages hidden in the back branches of the Christmas tree, for children who dropped by unexpectedly. There are never too many gifts like that. The best gifts are almost never plastic or bubble wrapped.
Yesterday, I stopped into a small toy store. The toy I wanted wasn’t there but the owner and I began to talk. I was surprised to hear myself sharing the thing closest to my heart just now. I have a young relative who’s struggling with depression and is having a hard time this holiday. I felt low and said so. The young man smiled. “Wait here,” he said and after a moment he was back with a huge brightly wrapped gift. . “You have to promise to see that she gets it right away,” he insisted. The young man, Mike, explained that he suffers from depression also, and in the package was a puzzle that he often uses as a focal point when he is trying to work through a problem.
He wanted to send one like it on to someone else who could enjoy it.
“Couldn’t I pay for it? Or wouldn’t you at least like to send a note?” He shook his head. “It’s a present for No Reason at All.” he said. “Hasn’t anyone ever helped you for no reason?” As an afterthought he added, “it will come back. It always does.”
It was a grey day on Proctor Avenue but it felt like I’d stepped into a scene scene straight out of It’s a Wonderful Life. There should have been snow falling and lights twinkling while Clarence the Angel caused bells to ring. I waved back at the young man who makes a habit of helping people for no reason at all. I wonder if Mike ever goes to Albertsons. I’d like to introduce him to Bob.