Every year at Christmas I look forward to a reunion of family with good food, fine beverages, engaging conversation, and, of course, a day off work, even if only for one day. Despite my rejection of the religion on which I was raised, I always remember and respect the meaning of the holiday. I also enjoy the silly stuff such as the commercials, the NFL-on-Fox robot wearing a Santa Hat, jingle bells in the background of radio or TV shows, and a hot beverage on a snow-squally day. I make the best of the season just like everyone else. However, the one thing I dread is the shopping.
This year, since Black Friday, I have arrived at the conclusion that I will not be participating in any gift-giving this year. The only thing you will find under my tree is a napping kitty or two. Fortunately for me, I have no children, nieces, or nephews to shop for, and my family has agreed to nix our usual Secret Santa tradition due to the economic black cloud that hangs over us. Besides, gift-wrapping is challenging enough without trying to convince two curious cats that bows are not toys, tape is not food, and wrapping paper is not a hiding place. It seems more acceptable this year to be going lean with the shopping, but I confess I am feeling the pressure of the season.
Not being in a corporate environment this season, I’ve managed to escape my most dreaded forced gift-giving event, Secret Santa at work. Words can not describe how much I hated shopping for a $15 item for someone I barely knew, trying to find the perfect all-purpose-yet-thoughtful gift that anyone would love, only to get in return an “Oh, that’s... interesting. I think my [husband, wife, aunt, son, dog] might like this.” Meanwhile, I would receive a gift basket filled with jam or chocolate or whatever on which, after taking off the shrink-wrap, I would find an expiration date of five years ago. Does anybody really, truly think this is fun?
Then, a few days ago, I happened upon a magazine published by and for a certain sect of Christians, which contained an article on the tradition of giving presents on Christmas. In a nutshell, the article disagreed with maxing out credit cards on Christmas or participating in celebratory debauchery, obviously because that’s not what this season is about. (The first thing that came to my mind was this: If we didn’t learn it from church, we should have learned it from “A Charlie Brown Christmas”!)
But it was more than that. The author was academic in his approach; he cited specific references from the Bible to back up his argument. The magazine article further explained that Christians are truly giving people, and rather than giving gifts in expectation of receiving them in return, they must give gifts for no reason at all other than because they are pure of heart. A gift given on a Wednesday in March, for example, is more important than the routine give-and-take of Christmas gift exchanges. It is a true gift and not an obligation.
At least that was my take on it. I’ve thought that way since I was old enough to see how out of hand the shopping gets this time of year. My curiosity got the better of me. I made a mental note of some of the Biblical references from the article and went home to dig out my old, yellow-paged, unopened Bible that I received from the Gideons on my way to class one day back in the ‘90s.
It sounds cliché for someone who is starting over in life to turn to religion. In a way, I kind of wish it was that simple for me, but it’s not. I'm a true skeptic, and I have never wanted or needed religion in my life. I took the Bible into the bathroom to read, and I spent less time actually analyzing its contents than I did wondering whether I was being disrespectful reading it while sitting on the throne. (Seriously, are there rules on that?) So the Bible went back in the drawer until - who knows? - even though the magazine article remained in my mind.
At least there was a positive outcome of this close call with religious clarity: I am not going to let myself get stressed out by the gift-giving culture this year. The bottom line is that the people with whom I will be spending Christmas are not expecting any gifts from me, and they are okay with that. More importantly, no unsuspecting co-worker will have to endure opening a Secret Santa gift from me (probably a copy of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn or something) and pretend to be excited about it, all the while thinking, “Why couldn’t she have just re-gifted a Knotts Berry Farm basket so I could use it for next year’s Secret Santa?”
Sometimes everybody wins.