two of the presents were quite large, the kind that the width of a wrapping-paper roll will not accommodate, the kind you have to cut patches of paper to conceal the portions of the box that are not spanned by the original pass. it is impossible for a gift of this size to ever fall within the “proper” category of wrapping. with this foreknowledge i had both titanic sized packages wrapped inside of 5 minutes. the final present was oddly shaped, a character from a children’s show whose packaging exposed him to the elements, allowing for those passing him on the aisle to push the top of his left foot so that the potential owner could watch him flail his arms while jubilant music played. this type of packaging is beneficial when making in-store tv-character-toy selections, it is a detriment when attempting to wrap them after purchase with notions of “properly wrapped” submission. and yet, i remained enthusiastic. part of the excitement was because i had picked this gift out myself for my niece, charlie. another segment of my excitement resulted from the fact that i would be more than pleased to receive this toy myself and to be entrusted with its wrapping would give me another opportunity to press the left foot a number of times. it goes without saying that this gift took a longer amount of time to conceal than the other ones.
christmas has long been the brunt of anti-commercialism rants, and for decent reasons, i guess. christmas is a miserable time for a lot of people. a small number of my friends fall into this category. some don’t have a lot of spare money laying around waiting to be disseminated and they hate the pressure they feel. others have lost family members and the absence is felt more acutely during this time. others talk of the ills of society that are magnified, how the great story of god is trivialized and sold, how giving ridiculous items that we don’t need or really even want is just ignorant, how everything seems to be concerned with the accumulation of more and more stuff. all of these are well founded. but i happen to think that some of the more amazing qualities of the human spirit are also accentuated and heightened when the box of ornaments comes down from the attic. simple things like generosity. stuff like love and hope and community. feelings of connectedness and concern. all the words whose meanings have diminished from years of use. but, i think this rare opportunity is created that allows us to express to those whom call us friend, or family, or foe that we understand them as a person, that we know what makes them smile or laugh or what they hope for or how they see the world. i mean, it is remarkable that a silly character whose foot you press to make him sing and swing his arms can cause a two year old to form the sentence, “i’m so happy,” while hugging the green-furry-arm-flailing thing and staring right at me. i mean, it’s just bits of plastic and synthetic fibers draped around some electronics, and yet, these silly material things can animate some of the most illusive and transcendent feelings. you might argue that it is not a good thing to reinforce responses to material objects like this. you might argue that the silly unnecessary character cost you half as much as it did to send that goat from oxfam, that i could have sent another goat with what i paid for the green furry thing. these arguments are sound, i guess, but how rare is it to have that overwhelming feeling of pure unfiltered happiness erupt inside of you? i mean, how many times will my niece feel that overpowering sensation? i do feel a lot of satisfaction giving goats and planting trees, but nothing near what i’m seeing on the face of my niece. what does that mean? that i’m evil? i really hope not. perhaps grace is like the green furry creature – something we could never even imagine existing, and then it’s with us in the same space. maybe getting is a good thing too.
a couple, whom my wife and i are friends with, left us a present before they headed out of town for the holidays. for me, a copy of the “grapes of wrath”, and for my wife, a white plate. and these were perfect gifts. the book was ideal for me because i had mentioned it in conversation over lunch more than a month past. the plate was wonderful for my wife because, well, she likes plates. it wasn’t that i needed another book, i have several. we also have plates. and yet, i texted my friend with a small quantity of water in my eyes and a large quantity of gratitude in my chest. it was not that i really liked the book, it was that he had listened. he had paid attention. and this is why i love christmas. sure, we could figure out better ways to express our appreciation for each other at any point on the calendar but we are socially awkward and it is uncomfortable and it is oh so wonderful to have such a massive excuse, even if i get a few ill fitting shirts along the way. i really hope that your capacity to feel and love and care has and will be expanded this christmas.