It’s Christmas. The most wonderful time of the year. We run around like lunatics for the month starting the day after (or the evening of, in my case) Thanksgiving hunting for the perfect gifts for friends and loved ones. We overspend, overstress and then, come December 25th, all is right in the world. It is a ritual that is equally insane and sublime.
When I was a kid we did not really celebrate Christmas. We actually did not really celebrate anything. My mother was Jewish and my father was Italian Catholic. He insisted on having some semblance of Christmas while they were married and I recall some version of a “Chanukah bush” that was stored away in the attic. Once my parents divorced when I was about 8 or 9, that went out the window and my mother, for many reasons, did not carry on any traditions. We did do some sort of ad hoc family gatherings around Christmastime and did exchange gifts most years but it was never anything rich with celebration or tradition.
I don’t recall a lot of presents as a kid but, regardless, I always took great pleasure in the act of going out and buying gifts and wrapping them up. I was mesmerized by beautiful gifts all wrapped up in colorful paper with big gorgeous bows. I worked really hard to perfect my gift wrapping skills and learned how to make a mean bow. I was twirling ribbons with scissors as a grade schooler. It always bummed me out that we did not have a big family and that we did not have a lot of money because I wanted to go out and buy the biggest, most beautiful gifts I could find for everyone, wrap them up with the most stunning paper and present them with all the pride I could muster. Instead, my mother bought cheap dime store paper – so thin I could practically see right through it and ripped the minute it found the corner of a box. I would pick up little trinkets here and there to give to the various people in my life in order to fulfill my desire to give as if I, myself, were Santa.
I never thought as much about getting gifts because there never was a wish list or boxes and boxes to open. And, I was so impatient that, on more than one occasion, I unwrapped and rewrapped the presents I discovered in my mother’s bedroom, effectively ruining any joy I might have had when I finally opened the package. (That is a whole story in itself!) I really focused my energies on what I could buy for others and how I could make the gifts look as perfect as possible. As I got older and was on my own, I continued with my own tradition of giving gifts to as many people as I could in order to see their eyes light up with joy when they opened the absolutely perfect (fill in the blank) that they had subtly mentioned over coffee or had looked at in a window while we strolling through the mall or down a midtown street. I was always in search of the perfect gift and was careful to pay attention to any clues that would help me on my mission. Once I got married and had children, the opportunity for gift giving increased exponentially and my joy at seeing my husband or children open up a much-desired package made my heart sing.
Now, do not let me fool you into thinking I am so altruistic that I do not enjoy being on the receiving end of the gifts. In fact, I love getting gifts. But, receiving gifts does not come easy to me. That goes for both tangible and intangible gifts. Despite the fact that we are about to embark upon the biggest day of wasted gift wrap, I am acutely aware that some of the greatest gifts I have or will receive do not come in a box with gift wrap and a bow. Perhaps there is guilt attached to this (OK, of course there is guilt attached to this). All I know is that I have heard the words “Just say thank you,” once too often that it makes me really think about how I could do a better job of mastering the art of receiving gratefully and graciously – and I know I am not alone.
For me, it’s pretty complicated and it is something that I need to work on. Since gifts are coming at me all the time (mostly in the form of the intangibles – the ones I love the most), it is a bit challenging to not be a gifted receiver. Of course, I am grateful. I am eternally grateful. After I get over the “this is so nice of you, you didn’t really have to” about a hundred times, I stop and think about how fortunate I am to have such goodness and kindness in my life. But not before I have assuredly annoyed someone else who just wants me to be able to receive their gift because giving feels really, really good.
On Christmas (or whatever holiday you may celebrate), receiving is expected and nearly mandatory. Every other day of the year, minus your birthday, it might present a different set of challenges. So, I encourage you to think about what kind of receiver you are and if you can offer those who are offering you a gift, the return of a gift of receiving. Just say thank you and move on.
To those of you who have given me gifts of any kind, I say thank you. To those of you to whom I have given gifts, please do not feel obligated to reciprocate and enjoy whatever you have received and know that the gifts were given with lots of love. To all of you, enjoy the beautiful boxes with ribbons that you may receive tomorrow and also be on the lookout for all those meaningful intangible gifts coming your way. And remember, the best way to say thank you is to simply say “thank you.”