The holiday hoopla is in full swing at my house as I carefully craft my never-ending to-do list, and check it twice, I might add. Magic, ironically, doesn’t magically happen, in spite of what the elf on the shelf might whisper in the night. Nope, it requires preparation and planning and effort. The most special time of the year is also the busiest for most of us as we scramble to create the perfect holiday and preserve our precious traditions. Yes, it is hectic, but ultimately, worth it. And since last year wasn’t much of a celebration for us, I am determined to make up for it.
I have spent the afternoon wrapping gifts. As I painstakingly tie a bow around each package, I hope that the recipients will be happy to receive them. It is always fun to plunder the attic to see what I have tucked away for family and friends. You see, I am a champion shopper. No, really. Normally, I am on the lookout year-round for the perfect present for everyone on my list. Sometimes, I fall short, like the boots I bought for my oldest granddaughter one September. They were adorable, just her style, and I knew that she would be thrilled. So imagine the look of surprise on both of our faces when she opened the box, only to discover that I had bought her two left shoes. (Lesson learned: always check before you leave the store.) But it has become the stuff of family Christmas folklore, a story to be retold every year as we gather around the tree. I dare say the tale is more memorable than the gift might have been.
Presents can be personal, useful, extravagant, homemade, and even silly. But all are wonderful. The fact that somebody cares enough to choose something just for you is a tangible demonstration of their affection. And it is, of course, a nod to the gold, frankincense, and myrrh that the Wise Men bestowed on the baby Jesus so many years ago, a commemoration of the reason for the season. And so, in spite of what the glitz and gaudiness of mall marketing might otherwise indicate, gift giving is a special kind of annual exchange, a thoughtful token for those who are important to us.
I have some lovely reminders of other holidays. A friend once gave me a beautifully-bound blank journal. On the first page were the words, “Write beautiful stories with happy endings.” I thought of that quiet challenge for months before settling down to write my first novel. And in the years that have followed, I have come to understand that the true gift that year wasn’t in the object: it was in the wish for me, the person’s belief that I had the potential, the talent and wherewithal to be a writer. Another friend gave me a lovely bookmark engraved with a quote attributed to George Eliot: “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” It came to me one Christmas as I pondered my future, wondering what the next chapter of my personal and professional life might be. I often daydreamed about the possibilities as I used it to mark the pages in whatever book I was reading. And one day I knew with reasonable certainty that I wanted to try my hand at writing. A few years ago, a present from a friend who is no longer in my life was a mug that simply says, “I write. What is your superpower?” I still think of her fondly as I use it for my morning coffee. Last year, another friend gave me a handmade cup with a blue butterfly formed into the handle. This symbol, which made its way into two of my books, reminds me of my current metamorphosis and, appropriately, I keep it filled with pens so that I can jot down ideas when sudden inspiration comes. Of course, there are other examples I could offer, memories of so many Christmases past, but these most recent standouts gave me a new direction, a challenge, a vision. With gratitude, I set my sails for the course they helped plot for me. And it has been a remarkable voyage.
And so, as I think of what to give others during this Christmas season, I hope to be ever-mindful that the best presents are those that encourage and support as well as delight. The inspiration to dream often comes in the least likely packages. A camera to launch a photography career, an easel and a set of brushes to inspire a budding artist, a building set to encourage a child’s imagination can somehow become a stimulus for something life-changing. Indeed, the true beauty in the holiday comes in the wishes we make for one another, the potential we see. When that is coupled with the special time we spend together, the laughter and fellowship, (the best gift of them all, by the way), it is pretty amazing. Who could ask for anything more?
We never know know what might be placed in our stockings that may set us on a different path. That's because Christmas, more than any other holiday, fills us with hope for the future and allows us to believe in the power of possibilities. It’s the most wonderful time of the year, right?
As for me, I am currently looking for the perfect pair of boots for my oldest granddaughter. She is a new bride and moving far away in the coming year. It will be quite the adventure for her, and I want her to step out into the world in style. And yes, I will check to make sure she doesn’t have to do it with two left feet.