Gifting Not Getting

Noticing the gift in everyday things.

In 1954 my parents immigrated to Canada with $60 in my dad’s wallet. Their Christmas traditions probably stemmed from frugality as much as from faith. But when I had children of my own, I embraced their practices, not merely for nostalgia’s sake, but for the ways in which they cultivated both piety and generosity. For example, we exchanged gifts on Christmas Eve, something our neighbours found odd. Christmas Day was set apart for reverence, with church in the morning, The Messiah on the record player all afternoon, and a cozy evening of goodies and shuffleboard.

Not surprisingly, Santa Claus had no place in our Christmas. Nor did my parents import any Sinterklaas customs from Holland. One positive result? Knowing our gifts came directly from Mom and Dad curtailed our expectations. Similarly, with my own children, I never tried to pretend that Santa was anything but a storybook character.

My parents instituted one practice that I still love dearly: We took turns opening only one gift at a time. In the early days this was likely because there weren’t many presents under the tree, and taking turns helped prolong the fun. But now I believe that this deliberate approach contributed to a family ethos of unselfishness. . . we were habituated to caring about each other’s joy and to taking the time to say, “thank you.” In the weeks before Christmas, our old farmhouse simmered with secrets. Christmas Eve was as much about the surprises we were planning for each other as it was about what we would be receiving.

One gift, though, held no surprise – the box filled with socks, underwear, pens, paper and a Dutch chocolate letter. It was the family joke, our practical mom sweetening daily necessities with a treat. Looking back, I recognized how even this funny tradition taught me to respect the value of “small things” and I took to stuffing my kids’ stockings with everyday items and a chocolate letter. They, too, teased me.

It’s sweet to reminisce, but I’m not a stickler about traditions. The birth of our Saviour is worth celebrating, whether in fresh or time-honoured ways.

  • Cathy Smith, former features editor and columnist for Christian Courier, is a retired Christian schoolteacher who lives in Wyoming, Ont.

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