Passing a gift along can help the spirit

Can it really be less than a week to Christmas? Where did the year go? People always say that, but 2011 has accelerated to light speed. When did December get this short?


I’ve had little time to shop. We didn’t even get around to buying a tree until we had to after a member of my Sunday school class gave us an ornament. It was made from a melted medicine bottle but looks Christmassy, not pharmaceutical.

It hangs from the boughs of our fir, along with the Nativity scenes and Santas and the other ornaments we’ve collected over the years that hold special meaning: The wooden cutout of my former house, covered in snow, created by a traveling artist long ago. The one in memory of Gene, the first friend we lost to AIDS. (Even though that snowy house was only a few blocks from work, each morning he would greet me with, “How was your drive in from the country?”) Ornaments celebrating the kids’ first Christmas. Elvis, because my wife loves him.

OK, the tree is up, and the other decorations and lights. The cards we received from family and friends are on the mantel. It still doesn’t quite feel right, though.

It’s difficult to pinpoint the reason. There’s no shortage of decorated houses to enjoy while driving around at night. Our neighbors have invested the wattage to make up for our measly attempt.

The churches are not to blame. The Christmas programs and musicals and Nativity scenes are as amazing as ever.

Nor can we lay any fault on the stores’ doors. They have gone all out to resurrect the economy in 12 easy payments. You can’t turn around without bumping into a sale.

If there’s any shortcoming at all, perhaps we can fault the weather. It has given little clue that Christmas is just around the corner. We’ve had the air conditioner on at home some days, for goodness’ sake. The days are summery. The nights are starry, not cloudy with the promise of snow. Still, we know where we live, so we should be thankful for what we have that others envy.

Maybe it’s what all the experts have told us for years. We must look within to find the true spirit of Christmas. We can’t give the greatest gift of all, but we can give what we have.

I always work on Christmas, so after seeing what Santa has brought our grandkids, we generally stop by a waffle shop for a late breakfast. The restaurants are busy on Christmas Day, so a couple of years ago we sat at the counter next to a World War II veteran who was friendly and talkative. When we got up to pay our check, we found that he had done it for us. It was a gift we had not expected to receive that day.

And so, as I write this, we have just returned from having waffles. We sat at the counter next to a woman named Sherry. (Sorry if that’s not how you spell it, Sherry; I hadn’t planned to write this when we met.) She works to help adults become literate and was in town for a funeral. We had a pleasant breakfast. When she wasn’t looking, we picked up her check.

It felt good passing along a gift given to us. Try it this year if you’ve run out of ideas. It helps the spirit.

Merry Christmas.



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