“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents.” That’s what Jo March says in the opening paragraph of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women.
Years ago, when we’d ask Dad what he wanted for Christmas, he’d always say, “A happy family.” It became the gentle, wry family joke. One year, while prowling around a secondhand bookstore, my brother found a book called The Happy Family. He bought it, wrapped it up and put it under the tree. Dad loved it. Now that Dad is gone, I’d give the world to hear him say it again. But I have the gift of that memory, and many others.
I start thinking about presents even before I do my after-Thanksgiving ritual of decorating my house and tree for Christmas. I am of an age where I don’t need more stuff. In fact, I’m really trying to get rid of stuff. So are most of the people on my list.
But still. It’s nice to have something under the tree (besides Lottie, AKA Mama Kitty). Chocolate, for example. Make mine dark.
If I’m really ambitious and I start early enough, I’ll sew. This is not one of those years.
When giving gifts, I’d like it to be something the recipient will use. Or eat. A pound of coffee. One doesn’t actually eat coffee, though I know java junkies who would happily chew the grounds to get a caffeine fix. That said, French roast is definitely a plus during the holidays.
Back to gifts that can be consumed. I have a terrific recipe for cranberry chutney, and I’ve been known to make lemon curd and apple butter. Baking is good. My holiday tradition is pumpkin bread, with fresh pumpkin puree made from my Halloween pumpkins. I’ve also been known to make biscotti, scones and big chewy ginger cookies. In fact, this year I have a special request for those cookies.
What about me, as the gift recipient? As noted above, I don’t need more stuff. I’m getting rid of stuff. But there are gifts I’m grateful for. A character in the movie Miracle on 34th Street calls them “those lovely intangibles,” and further says that they are the only things that matter.
Start with the gift of good health. That’s a big one. The past three years have been an obstacle course. Thank goodness for Covid vaccines and boosters. And flu shots. If you don’t think influenza is a big deal, I refer you to John Barry’s stunning and comprehensive look at the flu epidemic of 1918-1919. It’s called The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Plague in History. The book should be on everyone’s reading list.
I made it through 2020 wearing masks, limiting contact with people and sanitizing my hands like crazy. In 2021 had knee replacements. Both knees at once. That was an adventure. The medical adventure for 2022 was cataract surgery on both eyes. For 2023 and beyond, the best gift of all would be not to have any repair jobs on any more body parts. And it would be really great if we could finally get out of this Covid labyrinth.
And the gift of good health for other people. I have family and friends who were diagnosed with various types of cancer and/or had surgeries, who have spent the past year-plus dealing with the treatment of same and the aftermaths of that treatment. Then there’s my elderly mother, who had a long recovery from a fall.
The gift of warm and dry, with a roof over my head. As I write this in early December, it’s unseasonably cold for the San Francisco Bay Area. I’m back in my office running an electric space heater to keep warm. At least I am inside and comfortable, even if my fingers sometimes stiffen up.
And importantly, for a writer, I am grateful for the gift of time to write, time to go off into my own little fictional world and create plots, characters and settings. I spent so many years working at full-time jobs and shoehorning the writing into early mornings and weekends that it is a gift to be able to sit down at my computer and spend the whole day at my avocation.
And the time to enjoy the season, queuing up my Christmas movies and listening to my Christmas CDs.
How about you? What are the gifts of the season for you and yours?