“For it is in giving that we receive.”
Francis of Assisi
“The excellence of a gift lies in its appropriateness rather than in its
Charles Dudley Warner
Well. This is about gift giving. As noted in this post, most of us suck at giving Christmas gifts. <Me & Christmas gift Giving>
On occasion we get lucky and give that one spectacular gift that make someone’s eyes light up and you know you have knocked it out of the park. But more often than not we fall back on dollars & cents assessing “how much did you get” or making ourselves feel better by “how much we gave.”
I tend to believe we fall back on that because on that day and in that moment we couldn’t really figure out what the ‘right gift’ really was to give and just try and overcome it with volume.
I have given Christmas gifts spanning from $5 to $50 to $500 only to have found that if you give the right gift, the perfect gift for the person and the moment in time, the dollar value is irrelevant.
I have given a hand written poem in a well-chosen Christmas card on a year when I didn’t have any money and given something expensive on a year where I had the budget to send more. What I have found is that both have created the joy of giving … & the joy receiving … and created equal value despite the dollar outlay.
It took me years to find ‘right gifts’ for my sister and my mother — neither of which I know particularly well <tickets to games for my sister’s favorite baseball team and a huge spring bouquet of flowers for my mother>.
All this rambling leads me to share the two gifts … my favorite gift stories … which remind us all of the power of the ‘right gift’ at Christmas.
The first is an odd one, but for an amateur writer, like I, it has within it all the aspects a writer could only dream of being able to gift upon someone … “yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” letter from the editor –Is There A Santa Claus?
Editorial Page, New York Sun, September 21, 1897
This one may seem odd as a gift, but I put it in the gift category in that I struggle to find a better articulation of “belief in something good” which suggests some of the best things are not tangible … but in the heart & soul.
What a gift this letter from the editor is … in fact … what a gift to any and all … not just children.
The second is a story I never tire of … the gift that gave us To Kill a Mockingbird.
This story was published in the December 1961 McCall’s magazine – titled Christmas To Me.
There was an envelope on the tree, addressed to me. I opened it and read: “You have one year off from your job to write whatever you please. Merry Christmas.”
“What does this mean?” I asked.
“What it says,” I was told.
They assured me that it was not some sort of joke. They’d had a good year, they said. They’d saved some money and thought it was high time they did something about me.
“What do you mean, do something about me?”
To tell the truth – if I really wanted to know – they thought I had a great talent, and…
“What makes you think that?”
It was plain to anyone who knew me, they said, if anyone would stop to look.
They wanted to show their faith in me the best way they knew how. Whether I ever sold a line was immaterial. They wanted to give me a full, fair chance to learn my craft, free from the harassments of a regular job. Would I accept their gift? There were no strings at all. Please accept, with their love.
It took some time to find my voice. When I did, I asked if they were out of their minds. What made them think anything would come of this? They didn’t have that kind of money to throw away. A year was a long time. What if the children came down with something horrible? As objection crowded upon objection, each was overruled. “We’re all young,” they said. “We can cope with whatever happens. If disaster strikes, you can always find a job of some kind. OK, consider it a loan, if you wish. We just want you to accept. Just permit us to believe in you. You must.”
“It’s a fantastic gamble,” I murmured. “It’s such a great risk.”
My friend looked around his living room, at his boys, half buried under a pile of bright Christmas wrapping paper. His eyes sparkled as they met his wife’s, and they exchanged a glance of what seemed to me insufferable smugness. Then he looked at me and said softly; “No, honey. It’s not a risk. It’s a sure thing.”
Outside, snow was falling, an odd event for a New York Christmas. I went to the window, stunned by the day’s miracle. Christmas trees blurred softly across the street, and firelight made the children’s shadows dance on the wall beside me. A full, fair chance for a new life. Not given me by an act of generosity, but by an act of love. Our faith in you was really all I had heard them say. I would do my best not to fail them. Snow still fell on the pavement below. Brownstone roofs gradually whitened. Lights in distant skyscrapers shone with yellow symbols of a road’s lonely end, and as I stood at the window, looking at the lights and the snow, the ache of an old memory left me for ever.
• Harper Lee went on to write Go Set A Watchman and To Kill A Mockingbird.
I share these gifts for one of my favorite days of the year Christmas just to remind everyone that in a world that far too often measures success & results off of dollars & cents & some number … sometimes the greatest gift you can give someone is … well … anything but dollars & cents.
It is hope, belief, optimism and trust … in someone.
I can’t guarantee much to anyone most of the time but on this I feel I can give a 100% guarantee.
I wrote this in my 2014 Christmas post:
I think many people may treat the event & time as a gift giving occasion or a time to gather or even a time to reflect … but I am beginning to think Christmas offers a glimmer of ‘what could be’ more than anything else. Sometimes it may simply be a small glimmer but it is …well … a glimmer.
A small piece of hope for the future.
A small spotlight on when hope appeared in the past year or so.
I tend to think as we get older our lists get smaller because we get closer to the one thing that really matters. This also means that the closer you get to that one thing the less important all the other things become.
And maybe I was partially right … hope is a gift with an inestimable value.
But other things like believing in someone, optimism that someone can be the better version of who they want to be and … well … simply ‘trust’ also have inestimable value to someone in need of this gift.
Here is my 100% Christmas gift guarantee.
If you give someone something on Christmas day, something that brings forth hope, belief in oneself, optimism in what could be and/or trust in that person, … well, it could have cost $5 … $50 … or $500 … and it will not matter — its value is infinite.