A few days ago my oldest grandson, Aaron, who often amazes me with his perception and generosity, said he didn’t need as many toys for Christmas this year because there were a lot of children who had a lot less.
I think he’s figuring out that the shine on a new toy truck soon wears off; the smell of a new baseball glove fades quickly away; and the thrill of a new video game wanes after it’s mastered. The warmth that comes from giving to someone else, however, is tangible for as long as memory endures. The gift blesses the giver.
Aaron reminded me of when Christmas was simpler.
Money was not an abundant commodity in our textile industry economy back in the 1950s and ‘60s. But mom and dad always managed Christmas.
I remember being excited Christmas Eve and don’t ever recall being disappointed Christmas morning. I suppose I was just as greedy as any other seven or eight year old kid but a new yo-yo, a tool chest, or a ball seemed to be enough. And the stockings hung on the chimney contained exotic things—Brazil nuts, English walnuts, and enough candy to gum up our works for days.
But looking back from the elevated perspective of 50 some years later, it’s not the stuff I got on Christmas morning that I remember most. I remember doing things.
Like shopping for my three brothers and a sister at the five-and-dime with just a handful of quarters. I could occasionally find a book for 30 cents or less, and we all cherished books. Still do. But even then, even in the thriftiest of thrift stores, finding a good gift for a handful of change was challenging and it was always a joy to find something I knew one of my siblings would enjoy.
We were Southern Baptist so were accustomed to being in church at least three times a week under normal circumstances and considerably more often than that in the weeks before Christmas—practicing for the Christmas pageant, Sunday school Christmas parties (co-ed but no dancing), and youth meetings.
I remember helping fill Christmas fruit baskets a few hours before the Christmas Eve service and then being allowed to hand them out as folks filed out of church. Most adults in the church rarely treated us as kids but involved us in what needed to be done.
We had special offerings at church and at school for folks who had even less than most of the citizens of a community in which few were what anyone would have considered well off. I would have felt miserly if I had not contributed a few cents or a can of soup or beans.
Those opportunities are still available, but back then it was just part of the community, part of belonging and contributing to make things better for someone, maybe someone we didn’t know or perhaps the elderly lady down the road who needed help and was too proud to ask.
Taking her a sack of groceries may have fed her for a week; paying her fuel bill may have kept her warm through the winter; and someone’s kindness at Christmas may have made her feel better about her neighbors. But I’m guessing that the real gift was the warm spot in the heart of whoever recognized the opportunity to give.
I think my grandsons, Aaron and Hunter, too, are figuring that out.