Merry Christmas! This is the gift giving season. The season inevitably leads to lots of shopping. This past Monday I had a morning appointment in Northampton and I thought I would take the opportunity to shop along the way home. I didn’t have much shopping left because, of course, I had already done most of my shopping in Shelburne Falls and Greenfield. Still a few things were needed.
I like lively Christmas music, Jingle Bells, Sleigh Ride, Let It Snow, Winter Wonderland and all the rest, but as I drove through the snow-laden woods, past the icy river, and into the valley’s frosted fields, Chanticleer’s renditions of sacred Christmas songs concentrated my mind on the gift of a beautiful day in a beautiful part of the world.
Since almost all the gifts we give are books I had to hit a couple of bookstores. I stopped at J.C. Penney for scarves for those on my list who really really don’t like to read. I stopped at Whole Foods for lunch and a panettonne. I keep promising myself I will bake my own panettone, a lovely Italian Christmas bread, but alas I have yet to pull it off. It was a lovely day. The traffic wasn’t bad, the stores were pleasantly populated with cheerful shoppers and the sales help was universally sweet tempered and helpful. I was not rushed. The day itself was a gift.
If we watch the nightly news with its daily financial reports from the malls and local stores, we might think that the whole purpose of Christmas was to buy gifts in order to keep our national economy from plunging into disaster. What a joyless view of the season. Gifts should be born out of loving generosity, not out of feelings of burdensome obligation.
I give gift books because I enjoy all kinds of books myself. I want to pass that pleasure along and share it. There are all kinds of books, for all kinds of interests and needs. My love of books joins the passions and interests of the recipients. I am so pleased when I hear that my three daughters share their Christmas books and send them around to each other because it unites us all in a story and in certain sentiments and attitudes. I like knowing gift books allow me to share a mutual interest with my children. I love to hear that the grandchildren have been touched by a gift book.
Of course, in many ways the gift book is just a token of my affection. There are other tokens. Christmas cookies! Cake! When I give my granddaugters baking lessons I always tell them love is an important part of baking. They must think about the person who will eat the cookies, or cake, and stir love into the batter.
Still, books and cookies are Things. One gift I give that comes back to me ten fold is generous time spent with my family, with my friends, and volunteering for the Bridge of Flowers. The gifts of time, interest and patience are the gifts that are given and received all at the same time.
Once when I was overwhelmed by all the gifts that young grandchildren were getting, toys and clothes galore, I complained that I could not compete with all that stuff. A wise friend told me that as the granny I could give time. And patience and understanding. Actually I have learned that patience and understanding are always a gift, given and taken, with all loved ones, with friends, with seeds, with pets, and with everyone else.
The past years with grandchildren, and now great-granddaughters, have taken us beyond the pleasures of End of the Road Farm to an annual trip to Mass MoCA to find the weird and wonderful, history museums, hiking in local state parks, on adventure quests for hidden waterfalls, bowling, explorations at the Art Garden where we have found the materials and encouragement for all manner of art projects. We are always searching for the weird and wonderful. Laughter, surprise and some good snacks are always found along the way.
Time is precious. We feel this more as we get older. We often talk about how we can or should spend our time. I am now thinking about how I can give away my time generously. Many of us give away our time, to family, friends in need and the community in a multitude of ways from bringing soup to a recuperating neighbor, serving on town boards, the food pantry or other civic committees. We are not thinking about the generosity it takes to give our time and talent. We are only thinking about the pleasure and satisfaction we get along the way.
So as I wrap the Christmas books, bake the Christmas cookies, and bread for the food pantry, I am looking for the time that I will be sharing with friends and family this season. We’ll be visiting together and eating together. Our spirits are nourished by those meals. The holy days give us a reason to be together to give and receive the gift of time. I pray you will all enjoy the generous gifts of time this season. ###
Between the Rows December 21, 1013