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Giving of Christmas Teaches Us About Ourselves

Posted: December 18, 2011

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If Thanksgiving is about gratitude, Christmas is about giving—and receiving. We give to get something in return even if it is a thanks from recognition of having given. We give in turn to say, 'Thank you for your kindness.' Sometimes giving is from gratitude that we have more than others. So, volunteer at soup kitchens, give old clothes to thrift stores, or drop change into Salvation Army buckets. Sometimes we give simply for the sake of it to say, 'I'm thinking of you. You have a special place in my heart.' Those are the most wonderful gifts to give and receive.

When giving during the holidays, we must prepare that recipients don't always return the feelings, thus, often don't even say, 'Thank you.' Giving, sometimes makes others uncomfortable. To understand their rudeness we must put their shoes on our feet.

If someone whom we hardly know or really don't want to know was to show up on our doorstep with a bouquet of roses, how would we feel? We'd feel stunned or shocked, without words. We'd probably be thinking, 'Gee. I hardly know this person. I don't even like this person. I'm so embarrassed. What do I do now?' The truth is, some have so much that they don't regard gifts with much regard and merely lay them aside.

Once, I got money from people I never met, except the husband and that was once. He was so grateful for my kindness to his dying niece that he sent me Christmas cards every year for almost a decade until his death. He even invited me to stay with his family when I was on the coast. My cards to him and his family hardly returned his kindness. When one card came with money, I didn't know what to do. I didn't earn or deserve it. I bought the family a gift with the money. The second year when cash was in the card, I realized I couldn't accept it. I returned the money, telling them that I didn't know them well enough to accept such a gift and I'd done nothing to earn it. Besides, they couldn't afford such a gift. I realized that I hurt their feelings. I continued writing letters to them so they would understand that I appreciated their kindness. One day I got a notification of death. Frank died. These were special people. Yes, I realized they were probably lonely to have attached themselves to me, a stranger.

Did others shun my gifts as I did to them because I was someone they didn't feel they knew well enough or whom they didn't really want to know? I've given gifts that went totally unrecognized without a single word from people whom I knew well, people with whom I had dinners. I didn't quite know how to respond, so I said nothing to them about their lack of thought. I realized that I'd overstepped my bounds. They didn't feel as close to me as I'd felt toward them. Continuing to make them uncomfortable would be foolish.

A classmate whom I didn't know once gave me a birthday present when I turned about five or six. My mother threw a birthday party for both me and my sister since the dates were a week apart. We'd just moved to Cuba. We were to each invite ten friends. I didn't know anyone. With my mother's help, I decided that I'd invite the first ten kids from my class in alphabetical order. Surely, that would not offend anyone, since no one in the class knew me.

While we were bobbing for apples and pinning the tail on the donkey, our maid told me that someone wanted to see me. This little girl whom I didn't know came to me with a Barbie doll in her hands. Handing it to me, she said, 'Happy birthday.' I felt so awful. I knew immediately that I hadn't invited her since everyone I did invite was there. Her mother was waiting in the car for her. 'Please stay,' I told her. 'No. My mother won't let me,' she said, running back to the car. I felt so bad that I hadn't invited her. I immediately ran to my mother and told her to never have a birthday party for me again without telling her why. I knew how it felt to be unwanted or unloved. I never wanted to do that to anyone again.

It was only years later that I understood the reason that the little girl's mother brought her daughter to my party. It had nothing to do with me, but was about her making a point to my mother. In the 50s, mothers did those sorts of things to each other. The party wasn't about me or my sister either. It was about the parents.

I learned a lot about giving through the years. I learned that I didn't want gifts, not given from the heart. Gifts given out of obligation didn't have the same meaning as those that were from affection whatever they were.

I never had a birthday party again after the one when I was five until recently. Friends threw me a birthday dinner from their hearts. It was the best day of my life.

One day, someone knocked on my door. A deliveryman handed me a bouquet of flowers. A friend sent me flowers for no obvious reason. My heart still swells when thinking of those flowers. Especially, because it was for no reason. We expect husbands and wives to remember birthdays, Valentine's Day, Christmas, and every other holiday. Friends also sometimes take each other for granted.

The gifts we take for granted are usually the five dollars always in the Christmas and Birthday cards our aunts and grandmothers send us. If we only knew how they sacrificed to send that $5. My parents taught me to look both ways before crossing the street and to say, 'Please,' and 'Thank you.' I'd call my aunt and grandmother when long distance charges were 50 cents a minute, using up the money to thank them. It was hardly the money. I had a very busy life and that was often the only time we talked. It was probably worth it to them, and perhaps the reason they sent it was to hear from me as well their way of loving me.

My parents grew up during the Depression. They passed on their frugality. For Christmases and birthdays they allowed us one special gift. My father earned a respectable rank in the Navy, so we didn't get a lump of coal. Though someone I once gave a gift to likened it, to a lump of coal when I thought, it was a neat thing. I'm a lousy gift-giver probably because I don't yearn for things, and I could never afford to give anyone that special gift. Also, anything special that I've wanted, I earned the money to buy for myself. I never had children to understand the priority of giving gifts.

What I see now, are children who expect to receive many birthday and Christmas gifts. I know that the children will quickly forget my meager gifts, if they regard them at all. Nevertheless, I give them with love. When they are grown, maybe they will recall and understand that 'Auntie' Barbara didn't have the resources to give big gifts and look back fondly, that she bothered.

Whether children learn the lessons that their parents teach is a questionable matter. Mine used to say, 'You'll understand when you're older.' I did learn what they were teaching. To the credit of some parents, their intentions are to teach children to be responsible adults, not just to bear them without responsibility.

Honestly, it is conflicting whether deprivation makes us less materialistic, or having everything conceivable until things have no meaning? To punish children for the materialistic times we are in seems unfair. Perhaps, parents have an out. When times are bad economically, they have an excuse to tell children that they can't always have what they want. It's the yin and yang thing. Too, this is surely character building, i.e., they will not become spoiled rotten adults who throw temper tantrums when not getting their way. They may become more well-rounded adults who can 'push away from the table,' instead of becoming gluttonous pigs, who complain at any inconvenience. This is not only character-building, but serves to preserve their Life Forces as well when taking good attitudes during adversity rather than souring on life. Have aphorisms and stories parents used to teach become part of the past?

When material things become special, it may be more because of who gave them than the actual things. Like the inexpensive radio that was the last thing my father gave me before he died. We learn to release material things like I had to do to that radio when I lent it to a theater group. They told me the equivalent of 'possession is nine-tenths of the law,' not caring about its sentimental value to me when I asked for its return. For almost a decade, I carried it everywhere I moved. It was only something old to them. Sharing the gift meant something to me as well. I was sorry that they didn't appreciate the sacrifice.

When times were tough and they were usually, I'd bake something or put together a basket of inexpensive goodies. Sometimes, recipients appreciated it. Sometimes, they resented that it wasn't an expensive gift. I learned to never want a gift grudgingly given. Nor, do I give out of guilt. When I give, no matter how meager, it is always from my heart. Just like the unfailing five dollars in my birthday card my aunt and grandmother gave me, or the paper plate of cookies and candies from friends. Baking is more difficult when we get older. This alone makes them special gifts.

Have a Merry Christmas. After all, 12/21/12 is supposed to make this our last one because the Mayans said so. We all know what spiritually bloodthirsty, human-sacrificing, don't look at me cross-eyed cannibals they were. Here's betting on another Y2K and hoping I'm right unless, of course, Henry Kissinger, et al., has other plans.

... stay tuned ...

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