My wife, Lisa, had just walked out the door to "do a little Christmas shopping." And so it began. For the next two weeks, there would be carefully implanted hints and whispered secrets accompanied with the traditional, "You'll never guess!"
Of course, if I do guess I'll keep that a secret, too. The element of surprise is part of the joy of shopping for Christmas gifts.
As I watched Lisa drive off to fight the crowds, I couldn't help but reminisce over the generations of Christmas giving I have enjoyed. And, surprisingly, the episodes I remember most are the ones which cost the least and, at the time, seemed most disappointing.
When I overheard Mom tell a neighbor that the one thing she never got during Dad's service in France was a bottle of real French perfume, I decided on her Christmas present. It was difficult giving up my comics and candy, and I still had to settle for the smallest bottle of cologne.
On the one night when I wanted to show Mom how much I loved her, I felt that I was going to fail her. But on Christmas Eve she saw the tiny bottle of "Evening in Paris" cologne, wiped a tear from her eye with her apron, and squeezed my hand. After she passed away, we found the empty bottle wrapped lovingly in a handkerchief, lying among her most cherished keepsakes.
After our honeymoon, I found myself with only $18 to spend on my bride's Christmas gift. Searching the mall for hours, I stopped outside a small seasonal gift shop, exhausted. Nestled among a window full of holiday decorations, an antique Barbie figurine wearing a wedding dress seemed to almost wink at me and beckon my attention.
It was hardly the elegant gift I wanted, but might be affordable with a little haggling. By swallowing my pride, I was able to get the storeowner to match the price to my budget level. Even so, I felt that it was inadequate to symbolize my boundless love for the woman I had just married.
Apprehension filled my heart as Lisa opened her present. As she persistently picked me for information on where I found the money, she learned of how I humbled myself enough to beg the owner for it. That realization, in her mind, turned my meager offering into a glorious symbol of our marriage.
With age comes the insight that it is, truly, the thought rather than the gift that makes a difference. The most meaningful gifts, like clockwork, contain two elements that make them valuable: when the giver knows the recipient well enough to bring them what they desire or need most; and, when sacrifice is made in order to obtain the gift.
Of these two essentials, sacrifice is the most honored because it is the truest expression of love. Another person's happiness becomes so overpowering that we sacrifice whatever we must in order to obtain that which will purchase his or her ecstatic joy.
If the recipient understands our sacrifice they will, without fail, return our affection. As with all communication, gift-giving affects not only the receiver but also the giver. Sacrificing my pride and dignity to obtain that Barbie figurine improved my marriage by showing my wife that I was willing to surrender all to be a good husband and father. In sacrificing to give my mother perfume, I learned to portion my money for the more important and lasting possessions.
That first precious gift of the season did not seem so spectacular. The Giver had wrapped it in the most common and elementary package available: a small stable, lying on straw, surrounded by animals, and delivered by a young peasant girl.
But the Giver had also seen what mankind needed most and was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to assure we received it. Therefore, on that first cold and silent night, He delivered His only begotten Son knowing that the sacrifice would not be perceived fully for some years later on a lonely hilltop, surrounded by enemies who would mock Him.
The small family of shepherds and wise men perceived the true value of the gift, and accepted it in humbled gratitude on behalf of mankind that night. The heavens opened and filled with the glory of love.
In the coming days, may the glory of love fill your home, and the true meaning of this season be opened in your heart.
Dennis Jones is a Martinez resident.
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