I recently received an email from my oldest sister (there are six of us) in which she proposed that we all stop exchanging Christmas gifts. The message suggests that most of us have all we need and there is an implication that some of the gifts given have not been valued which magnifies the stress of finding presents at the holidays. I felt a reluctance to give up gift giving because Christmas gift exchange is one of our only remaining points of contact since our parents passed on. The whole episode started me thinking about what it means to give and to receive. I wondered what it meant that we were going down this road as a family even as I know so many families do.
I decided to reflect on it and as I did a poignant memory returned to me – a moment between my father and I from many years ago. At the time, I was a single parent and earned my living as a private school teacher; for me, Christmas present shopping was always a case of creatively stretching a dollar. This particular year, I was a tad short and had not yet figured out a gift for my dad. Then I remembered that just that summer I had worked a summer job and indulged in a small extravagance for myself – the purchase of a watch. The watch had a faux ostrich watchband and a retro, military style, face. I recalled how much my dad had admired it when I visited with him in August. I still had the original watchcase and had barely worn the watch itself. I decided to tell Dad that I got him his own for Christmas as he had so liked it.
I don’t know why it isn’t until now that I realize that my dad ‘knew’ I had given him my own watch that Christmas. What I do know is that he treasured it. He wore it till the band broke and then bought a new band which he showed to me; when the battery failed, he wrote to the company and secured a new battery letting me know it was still working; and, at each phase of his ownership he would share his appreciation of the watch by demonstrating that it was still working and reiterating that it was a great watch.
Remembering all of this, I cry as I hold anew the beautiful gift my father gave to me in receiving that watch, ‘knowing all along’where it had come from both literally and figuratively. His authentic gratitude encompassed the meaning behind my meager gift, and imbued the watch with a reverence that respected what I lovingly tried to do more than the actual watch.
I think through the grace of this memory, my dad offers me a view of his soul’s complexion and he reminds me what it means to lovingly receive. Clearly, my siblings and I need to learn how to authentically share our gifts with each other.
And so, as I live into the ‘no Christmas gifts’ proposal, I shall endeavor to remember how little physical gifts really mean. I shall value instead how much more vital it is to receive each other with compassion, open minds and open hearts – to offer the gift of accepting and loving each other. And I shall hope that my own soul’s complexion will lovingly illuminate with the joy of receiving and appreciating in the deepest and most authentic ways the many gifts in my life. Tory Londergan