Christmas Eve in my family means a gathering at my grandparents’ home. The agenda goes something like this: piñata, buffet dinner, carols (sung to a piano that has not been tuned in years and sounds like it belongs in a saloon these days), a visit from Santa, the opening of gifts, the reading of the Christmas story with the children acting out the Nativity and a violin background. It’s all pretty standard, I think. This year we had 49 people and a great time there.
I recently found out that my grandparents do not exchange gifts with one another. This makes sense, because their Christmas gift list has grown to a whopping 97 gifts. And no, my grandparents are not rich people. With a big family, giving gifts is one way they can try to express their love to each individual person. And ‘family’ is an expansive word in our family. This year my grandparents’ daughter-in-law’s adopted niece struck up an acquaintance with her blood sister. Half-sister, actually. This newly discovered sister joined us at Christmas Eve and received a gift with all the rest.
You don’t have to have even that much of a tenuously related status to make the list. Walk in the door, accept Granddad’s hug, and you’ll likely find yourself an hour or two later sitting on Santa’s lap while the flashbulbs pop. Because though Santa doesn’t personally deliver all the gifts, he almost always delivers the gifts to the newbies. Smile for the cameras…welcome to the family.
Christmas presents get a bad rap from a lot of people. I was in a class not long ago focusing on keeping the Spirit in Christmas and most of the criticisms seemed to be aimed squarely at the gift-giving tradition. I object seriously. There is a reason we give gifts on the holiday when we celebrate the greatest gift of all. The best gifts share something of the giver. It’s lovely to have a holiday that prods us to think about what the people around us might want. Here are some of the gifts I witnessed this year that impressed me:
Aprons: my mother was visiting with sister number 2 and saw a cute, polka-dotted, ruffly apron that one of her grand-daughters loved. So Mom came home and made one for her. Then made one for each of her sisters. And one for each of the other grand-daughters. Then she made one for each of the daughters of one of her nieces and the daughter of one of her nephews. At last count she had made 18 aprons for every shape and size. She’s made a couple for the grandsons too. There are requests for more on the way.
The doll bed: sister number 1′s only daughter asked for this American Girl doll bed from Santa this year. Instead of buying it from the manufacturer, Santa outsourced it. Luckily for her, this little girl has a great-grandfather who is handy in the wood shop and a mother who is handy with needle and thread. She now has her doll bed. It is gorgeous. And it is an heirloom because of the love that went into building and stitching it.
The wall: my parent’s received a promise of a stone wall from my uncle as a Christmas gift this year. My uncle takes the stones that farmers dig up and discard on the edges of their fields and builds gorgeous walls from them. I know, it’s a strange thing to talk about the artistry of stone walls, but his are amazing. You can catch a glimpse of one of his walls, along with a lot of his other handiwork in this post (check out the brick walkway made from discarded bricks). Or just believe me, this is a gift of work and sweat and beauty.
One of my favorite gifts I’ve ever been able to give was a number of years ago on Father’s Day. We had recently discovered that my father was a bronze star recipient from when he served in Vietnam. He had not talked about it at all with us. I sneaked away his certificate and medal. My sisters and brother and I all went in together to have them framed. What my father said about that gift was: “It was not what I thought I wanted, but it was exactly what I wanted.”
I would love to hear if you had a chance to give or receive a special gift this year. If not, you have a whole year to plan for Christmas 2011. Plenty of time to come up with a great idea!