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December 23, 2013

Understanding the season of getting

Ada — Children understand it best. Christmas is all about getting gifts.

Yes, it does get overdone.  Yes, it is commercial.  Yes, I sometimes feel dirty after it takes so long to even throw away the wrapping and the boxes it all came in.

No we don’t always--or maybe hardly ever if you are not religious--mark in a real way in your heart that the whole day is in remembrance of a gift we were given in the form of a child more than two-thousand years ago. Even then we will refer to the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh brought by the Magi, but the real gift was the Child Himself.

I am a man with a foot in each of two worlds: I grew up in a working man’s home but now I am middle class.  I am also the son of a man who was in a similar position: Dad started life in a sharecropper’s home but was privileged to end it having a regular job.

Dad made a big thing out of Christmas.  For him, Christmas was about oranges and apples and nuts and hard candy in stockings made out of netting and shaped like candy canes. My brother and I got knives, BB guns, and firearms when they were age-appropriate, as deemed by my father.  

It was great, but when I got old enough, I realized he was getting us the stuff he’d never gotten himself.

I do the same with my kids in my own way.

The receiving of a gift can be awkward because the giver is giving something of himself.  It is his reaction to you. I’ve sometimes felt guilt when I’ve been given a carefully, thoughtfully chosen gift and have not been able to take it into my self the way the giver intended.  

A lot of gifts from Dad were like that.

Don’t get me wrong. Guilt itself is a gift and as such must be used in the right way. The question as with so many gifts is how?

I see many of our middle-class young people who’ve been brought up lacking nothing of consequences have been gifted with guilt.

They don’t know what to do with it.

They know — at least subconsciously — that they live lives that they themselves have done nothing to earn.  They are living a life of comfort undreamt of by even the great monarchs of the past. They are vaguely aware there are those who have less, and they want to help.  They want to feel like they’ve helped, or they want to appear like they’ve helped.  Many times they only succeed in appearing like they feel like they have helped.

All that attenuation aside, the impulse is there, and it is a good impulse coming from the gift of guilt. The question is how to make the best use of this gift.

The answer is the obvious one: give.

It is made complicated by something I slurred over earlier.  I said that in giving a gift the giver is giving his reaction to you.  There is a range there.  Not everybody is good at this.  We’ve all received the corporate-style gifts where all the men get bottles of whisky and all of the women get chocolate, .  But there are people who are really good at the art of giving. I have sitting at my left hand a small, leather-bound book of blank pages a friend of my gave me to put my writing ideas on. I haven’t used it as much as I should--and have some guilt associated with that--but it is very dear to me.

Giving to those less fortunate is similarly nuanced, but fortunately I have cliché to help me.  Give a man a fish and feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime. Let me nuance it a bit more. Sometimes you need to give the man a fish so he can live long enough to learn to fish, but by way of warning, sometimes in giving him the fish you can teach his children that they don’t have to fish themselves.  I think there is enough in the last couple of sentences to make my friends at both ends of the political spectrum mad at me.  Anger can also be a gift.

So, Merry Christmas to you all. Hope you get lots of good stuff.

(Bobby Winters, a native of Harden City, Oklahoma, has been married to the same woman for nearly three decades; he and his wife have three daughters and one grandson. Bobby blogs at redneckmath.blogspot.com and okieinexile.blogspot.com. He invites you to “like” the National Association of Lawn Mowers on Facebook.)

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