I had some truly delightful, thoughtful and special presents yesterday – and feel very lucky, blessed, loved. In amongst the frequent fear, and insecurity, which dominates my life at the moment (and will continue to do so for the next few months), it is so lovely to feel safe and cared about.
But, thinking about this, it is not the actual physical gifts, lovely though they are, which touches me the most: It is the thought, the imagination, the symbolism and the connection lying behind each one. I say this because a true gift of love has many levels and rings a carillon of bells within that particular bond.
As a child, I adored getting a Christmas stocking – and, in fact, my parents continued this tradition until we were in our late teens. I can still remember so vividly the excitement of hanging one of Dad’s old thick socks up on Christmas Eve – and then waking to the heavy and bulging weight of the filled one the next morning. Usually at some hideously ungodly hour, it has to be said, but that’s part of the whole thing, isn’t it?
One of my earlier memories, when I was four and my next sister three, is of a Christmas spent at Flagstones, my grandparents’ home in Budleigh Salterton, and waking – clad in pyjamas with pale blue squares (my sister’s identical pair were red in colour) – to snow and frost and cold and the church’s festive bells and, at five in the morning, a stocking crammed with licorice laces and dolls and sugar mice and little chocolates and, most enticing of all, a brace (one each) of toy trumpets with which we saluted the morn good and proper!
The squeals of laughter, the bouncing on the bed, the raising of musical instrument to chocolate-stained mouths, the blowing, with the taste of licorice in the mouth, the sheer exuberance of that tinny noise, even the grumpy mumbles of the oh-so-boring adults, have all become encased in the shining and wondrous amber of memory.
In the eighteen years of my son’s life so far, one of the deep pleasures of Christmas-tide has been the buying and wrapping of little stocking presents, the filling of the big red and green stocking – and the joy of watching him opening his gifts the next morning.
Yesterday, his nineteenth Christmas, was no exception. Because he got back from his girlfriend’s house past midnight, he opened four presents then – and the rest in the proper morning, as you might say!
The look on his face – captured on my mobile phone and his father’s camera – says more than words ever could. And, for all that he had other, bigger, presents, I think that stocking full of small funny and odd things gave him just as much happiness and amusement!
The spirit of Christmas cannot be defined by the amount of money we spend. It is not a competition to see who can buy the most expensive, big, posh status symbol. The spirit is woven of love and connection and tradition and things which matter to all human beings: Joy, colour, generosity of soul, the sharing of food – and the acknowledgement that we are part of something bigger, and far more ancient, than our tiny temporal concerns. It is a celebration of light.
When I give presents, what I am really saying is this: ‘I love you. You matter to me. You are important.’
But sometimes, for reasons outside our control, the means of giving become diminished and we cannot actually provide the material evidence of our love for others. This is when the spirit of giving becomes clear and, I think, pure – because, when all present-giving is out of the equation, one is left with the greatest gift of all: Love.
In a time of austerity, giving of oneself, giving one’s heart and listening ear and support and warmth can be every bit as powerful as a brightly-wrapped symbol of that deep feeling.
The Spirit of Christmas is vital. Without it, the exchange of presents becomes little more than the rote swapping of things!
With it, every gift becomes an exciting and magical treasure, a precious part of something more profound – and a dance amongst the golden-berried holly, the collaborative building of a snowman, a sharing of festive music, a bear hug and the shining of love in the eyes are all just as important as a huge pile of wrapped goods!