Thursday, December 14, 2006

'Tis the Season

'Tis the season to live in peace and quiet, to prostrate oneself in prayer to a guy who owned a few carpentry tools, a robe, some sandals and, apparently, no Norelco.

Every year, we hear talk of people recommending we approach "the holidays" more simply, with more ease and comfort and quality time -- and less STUFF, a lot less stuff.

But did you know there's now a toothbrush with an "onboard computer"?

And doesn't it make you just a little envious of others when you hear that you are the last person on your block to not have a flat screen in the bathroom?

'Tis now the season of: increased dinner time traffic jams at the malls, millions anxiously arranging stress-spiced travel, elbowing each other for good tickets and goodies and gas.

The talk of Christmas being "too commercial" seems to be almost entirely talk. The few who really do revert to simpler times are rare enough to make the local news. But you're still more likely to get on TV by fighting for a parking place at the mall.

They say it's the thought that counts, but it really does seem to be the stuff that counts. What would Jesus put on his credit cards? And what do you mean he didn't have a credit card? He was the son of god for Chrissakes, he could get any amount of credit he wanted.

So it's up to each of us to put back some of the stuff in our shopping cards and leave it be.

I've been told I'm generous to a fault, and I have been. That means I used up a lot of my credit giving to others. But now, I've learned the limits down that road. Giving humbly and carefully is really honorable and elegant.

Try this: give a gift card with nothing on it, and say, "hey, it's the thought that counts!" Now THAT tests the foolishness of all this excess. To give a smile with such whimsy is worth a lot more than a geegaw or gadget.

I now tend to give smaller, inexpensive and singular gifts, usually one per person, very carefully chosen. And the care that I put into NOT piling stuff up really does feel good. You've got to be a little brave to leave the other stuff at the store. Make a list and check it often, look around, compare, think of special things only you could give to that particular person.

What really counts, when it comes to giving gifts?

The thought put into arriving at the choice.

The effort to find, select or make the choice.

The relative generosity of the choice.

Giving simple, inexpensive things is good, but then there is the flip side of that -- the sacrifice involved, relative to your means.

And so we should give and give not just to friends but to strangers, unexpected acquaintances, and distant friends. We should -- I should say, it would be GOOD -- to give far beyond obligation. Skirt obligation, even with spouses and family, as any sense of duty or obligation goes against the grain of giving generously.

No gift is obligatory, not a single one. If you feel guilt or obligation, you are not free, and giving is about freedom, the freedom to go above and beyond, the freedom to express affection with something tangible.

The other side of "you shouldn't have" is really not that the giftor shouldn't have but that the recipient may feel guilty and wants to lessen their feelings of guilt. So they're not free either.

Whether considering necessities or luxuries, giving is about joy and generosity and surprise and anticipation and whimsy and need. Downplay equity or payback. Downplay expectations. Downplay desire.

I'd say avoid the stacks of gifty junk. Think "what one thing would I give?" Make lists first and check them at least twice before you shop. Credit cards can be a thrill, but love and like are kinder and last a lot longer. Thus, with a bit of love and like, you'll give a little gift that keeps on giving.


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