"Christmas reminds us of what we don't have; Thanksgiving reveals what we have already."
- Jim McCollough, Pastor
Woodlawn United Methodist Church
So, how did it go? Christmas, I mean, during what many believe to be the worst economy of our lifetime.
Did you cut back on spending, try to reason with children - like my 6-year-old grandson, who boasted five lists for Santa - or succumb to past habits, buying and postponing payment until the bills arrive? Or did you find valuable, but less-expensive, ways to please those on your gift-giving list this year?
Every Christmas some of my more treasured gifts arrive in letters from family and long-time friends who, along with their greetings, touch me with their news and insights of the past year. Two of those "gift givers" related such unique answers to the above questions that I'd like to share their creativity with you.
Last year, Midwesterners and Scandinavian descendants Nancy and Noel Benson and their families decided, "being as we now all have flush toilets, cars that run most of the time, roofs over our heads and three-plus meals a day, we felt exchanging gifts could bless someone else more than just our kin."
That's when, instead of giving gifts to each other, the adults picked a local charity or world-wide cause and donated such items as rabbits and goats to families in a Third World country through "The Heifer Project" or other recognized organizations.
Nothing unique about that idea, you might say, since people have been doing this for years. But it's what this family gave each other after sending their gifts that makes their story an exception.
"Then, when we got together for our annual Smorgasbord, we gave each other the gift of story instead." Along with reports of the actual gifts they gave someone else, "With fireplace blazing and our bellies full, we sat around the circle with young and old sharing a family story from our collective heritage."
Nancy's 83-year-old dad told of bundling under buffalo robes in their horse-drawn sleigh to attend a Christmas Eve service, and coming home to the shiny, new toy - singular - he had wanted for weeks. That this gift, a tin, wind-up caterpillar, still evoked joy nearly 75 years later brought warm smiles to all "grandpa's" materially endowed 21st-century kin. Because these "gifts" were so well-received, the family planned to repeat the same ritual this year.
I didn't recognize the return address. The last I knew, Tom and Teresa Whiting lived in New York, but the postmark said "Salinas, California." The explanation, and their unique Christmas gift to teen-aged daughter Emily and each other, began a year ago and continues to this day.
"The beginning of 2008 found the Whiting family involuntarily reduced to one income, so we decided to turn an unfortunate event into an opportunity, and take a year to travel."
They didn't have a large savings account or rich relatives. They had spunk!
Teresa, a nurse, accepted a contract with a travel nursing company, and is financing the bulk of their itinerary with short-term jobs. They've lived in Atlanta, Denver, and Salinas, while passing through much of the rest of the country, visiting long-time, seldom-seen friends, and taking in sights like Mt. Rushmore and "breathtaking scenery." They are also "home-schooling" Emily, who has already progressed through two curriculum years since they've been away.
I began this column with a quote from my pastor's Thanksgiving sermon. Knowing that because of the slowing economy Christmas displays and advertising threatened to obliterate the November holiday more than usual this year, he challenged us not to let gratitude for what we have slip away while focusing on what we wish we had.
That thought, along with advice from Nancy Benson's depression-era father to "use it up; wear it out; make it do - or do without!" dominated my gift-giving and receiving this year. Paying a bill for the married folks or buying more gifts for families to share than to enjoy individually, and requesting "fix-it" favors rather than material gifts in return, made this as memorable a Christmas for our family as any in recent memory.
It also cut way down on wrapping paper and time and stress-consuming trips to the mall.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
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