The true gifts of Christmas don’t come wrapped with bows

Although I grieve just a bit when the long, dry days of summer become short, dark and cold, I rather like these days because I am hopelessly nostalgic about Christmas. With a determined change in attitude, I embrace the wind and hope for snow with a sense of adventure by adjusting our routines. We gather up our flashlights and purchase fresh batteries. We gas up our generator, stock our cupboards with canned soup and set up a puzzle table near the fireplace. I heat cider and simmer a cheesecloth bag filled with mulling spices as much for the fragrance as for the flavor. And I listen to Karen Carpenter sing, “There is no place like home for the holidays...” for the millionth time.

My nostalgia blooms when my husband brings down the Christmas boxes from the attic. Maybe it is the photos of our children from previous Christmas celebrations, so cherub-like I can still imagine the feel of their chubby little legs if I concentrate hard enough. Perhaps it is the Christmas books for children that I routinely set out on the coffee table. There was a day when they were small enough to sit upon my lap and it was not that long ago. Perhaps it is the homemade ornaments I faithfully hand upon our tree.

As sight-prompted as I am at Christmas time, I am even more attuned to the smells of the season. Freshly ground nutmeg, cinnamon sticks, candied ginger and baking turkey draw me in as nothing else. In spite of my continual weight watching, I pull out the cookie cutters and the old recipes, drawing infinite pleasure in planning and writing lists before the baking begins. I purchase fresh, seasonal ingredients and, like magic, my nostrils fill with aromatic memories. Like the amazing smell of roasting Spanish peanuts that comes from peanut brittle making. Like maraschino cherries baking inside sugar cookie dough. Like the subtle scent of cream and butter stirred into chocolate fudge.

Instinctively, I think of my childhood home, and I am the first to admit there are two factors that play mightily into this personal response to Christmas. I enjoyed a happy childhood, so Christmas conjures feelings of excitement and joy. I credit my mom most for this gift, as she was invariably the one waking my brother and me up so we would open the gifts she had carefully chosen for us.

The second factor is the era that formed my holiday perceptions. They were far simpler times.

I realize the president wants us to press forward without undue fear and shop. Our recessionary economy needs a boost of consumerism. But this push defies all that my faith tells me about Christmas and celebration, contentment and family harmony.

In fact, a passage I have been contemplating this week, found in the book of Isaiah, encourages the very opposite response from us. We are not to believe that if we spend we will feel better. We are urged, in fact, to move our focus away from ourselves and over to those in need, giving a piece of ourselves away for their benefit.

I’m struck by the fact that I recall very few past Christmas gifts but can vividly recall past Christmas adventures with friends and family. Our activities have included watching movies together. Playing board games and putting large puzzles together. Investigating art galleries and used book stores. Walking windswept beaches with our pets. Baking cookies and sharing them with friends. Declaring it “Soup Day!” and spending the afternoon chopping and stirring while the bread machine whirs and churns.

This means making more plans and inserting them into an already busy schedule. Increasing our giving to benefit someone we may or may not know. Giving with a selfless attitude, asking for no reward or attention but anticipating the personal gifts of joy and contentment when we do.

With some prayer, Scripture promises that God will guide our efforts and gift us with eternal insight and hope, peace and cheer.

There are elderly members of our nursing home communities who will go without visitors this Christmas. Parents who fear they will have little or nothing to give their children, much less special ingredients to bake cookies or prepare special foods for a Christmas meal.

Christmas cookies to bake and share. Firewood to chop and stack. Warm jackets to share. Stocking stuffers to pass along. Community music programs to hall children to. Cards to write special messages in. Hugs to give. Time to sit and reminisce. E-mail to send. Calls to make. Seems to me the path to contentment this Christmas is laid out before us.

Joan Bay Klope is a freelance writer and speaker who makes her home on Whidbey Island. Her award-winning column has run for 12 years in Western Washington newspapers. E-mail comments and speaking requests to faithfulliving@hotmail.com.


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