Thursday, December 13, 2007

presents, expectations, and elves

Recently a friend said that she had always noticed that in my family as I was growing, we gave gifts that she thought would have seemed... insufficient? ...unacceptable? to other kids. I was surprised, (and don't be offended, mom; I don't think she meant it in a negative way at all.) because I think we are the best givers ever!

I don't know how many gifts the typical American kid gets at Christmas, and really, I don't care. As a kid, I never felt shortchanged at Christmas. To me, it always seemed like we all had a wonderful wealth of presents.
Talking with other parents of young kids lately, all just figuring out how our families will do holidays for ourselves, I've found that my extended family may be somewhat uncommon for Americans in that we:
-make a lot of gifts by hand
-freely admit and even brag about how little we spent on a gift
-don't feel bad about, and even appreciate, giving and receiving used gifts

One family whom I admire gives each child three presents a year:
-a book
-something useful and practical (like clothes)
-something fun

The reason I never felt deprived (besides the fact that I actually wasn't deprived at all) is that many presents are not as satisfying as just a couple things that are just right. Not advocating asceticism here: I love giving (and getting!) presents. The wonder is in finding just the right gift. The thing that is perfect. This often means not making the thing that I want him to like, that really if I'm honest, I would like making better than he would like having! That's not a good gift. It means buying something if she honestly wouldn't appreciate something I made. It means trying to figure all this out, trying to get to know our family better, and love them more. Presents are supposed to be the loving overflow of our relationships, not the penalty we pay at holidays to avoid guilt and criticism! In that spirit, I'm enjoying this last stretch of making and finding, even knowing that not all my gifts will match my loved ones' heart's desires. (and enjoying the luxury that Paul took the kids away this afternoon so I could work on things; it was heavenly!)

Just to put things in perspective a bit, a different friend recently told me a story about some good friends from Haiti:
-the kids were thrilled to get any present, like a plain shirt.

Oh, the elfin part of the post of this post is the pictures. Can you tell we're impersonating woodland elves? That's a big tree we're inside of! I think it was a cottonwood. Maybe it was struck by lightening long ago, or was deformed otherwise, and healed in this shape?
Also speaking of elves*, we're enjoying a great little book mom gave me years ago, called, Santa's Favorite Christmas Story. It embraces both Santa Clause and the story of Jesus' birth, while helping sort out the difference between the two for kids. And it's beautifully illustrated, with salty watercolor paintings!
*Though there are no elves in this story, but elves make me think of Santa.


Kevin D. Hendricks said...

Hey, I remember that book from when I was a kid!

paul said...

I liked the story from the Haitian family where they would steel stuff from each other and hide it until Christmas, then they'd wrap up the stolen stuff and give it back as gifts. What a sneaky-fun way of dealing with not buying gifts!