A guide to gift-giving: the single gift you need to give

heart in hand

heart in handMy father was a successful executive when I was growing up. I was the only child at home in the 1980s. I remember fat times and lean times. During the good times, we lived in a nice subdivision and ate at fine Chicagoland restaurants.

When things were going well, our Christmas tree had presents that stretched out beyond the branches of the tree to the edge of the room. My parents were generous. I opened lavish and luxurious gifts: cashmere sweaters, a Casio keyboard, Atari 2600 game system, new leather tack for my horse and an electric typewriter.

When it was a time of unemployment, the tree branches overhung a handful of small boxes. The contrast from flush years made it seem like we were in desperate times. We weren’t, but I was too young to understand the difference between belt-tightening and true financial trouble.

In my life, I have experienced both extremes of luxury and poverty. Because of my experience at both ends, I wanted the holiday to stay modest for my son. I wanted to be sure that I could be consistent.

A time to spend, a time to wrap

What are your memories of Christmas?

Do you splurge on gifts? Do you show your love through gift-giving? Do you spend more money than is comfortable for your family’s financial situation?

This time of year encourages us to be financially irresponsible in the name of Christmas. We see romanticized ads showing happy families due to the perfect purchased items. Everyone looks joyful.

Yet our families haven’t changed just because it’s snowing and the nights are long. They will stay our families: wonderful, annoying, entertaining, vexing.

One of the best Christmas gifts I get from my mother-in-law is a long letter from her heart that she includes with the gifts she sends. She writes about the qualities she appreciates in me. I keep these notes in my journal and enjoy looking back at them.

You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late. –Ralph Waldo Emerson

Slow down, dang it! It’s Christmas!

The typical Christian message this time of year is to slow down and remember the real reason of the season. I’m all for that. I also know that this is one of the fullest and busiest times of the year for me. I go to more parties, do more baking and shop more than any other month. It’s unlikely I will have wide swaths of time for prayer and reflection.

But I can take ten minutes to write a few notes. I will tuck them in the presents. I will let the people in my life know why they matter.

Interested in writing some too? Here are some ideas with examples:

  • Say how the person affects you. Describe details about what you appreciate and why, such as, I appreciate how responsible you are with the animals when I come home late from work. It means so much to know they’ve been fed and watered. It’s a great feeling to be able to walk in the door and relax instead of deal with six hungry mouths.
  • Include something unique. List a quality your loved one might have, such as, I appreciate your ability to laugh off irritating situations at work. It is such a better commute home together when you are upbeat instead of depressed, despite a tough day.
  • Tell the story of a specific memory about something that happened during the year that stood out to you. After you got your driver’s license, you offered to go get groceries for us. I thought that was so generous and helpful.
  • Keep it short. Don’t feel like you need to go on for pages. A paragraph or two is plenty. You have a way of lightening the room when you smile. I appreciate your good nature even when I’m grumpy. Thank you for being a sunny person!
  • Do it now. One note of a few words today is worth more than the intention to write everyone you know entire novelettes. You have been there for me through three dozen hairstyles. Thank you for keeping the mullet jokes to a minimum.

Going forward, all the latest fancy gadgets will become quaint and outdated (remember the Atari and Casio I mentioned?). Clothing will get worn out. The popular games and music will be replaced by desire for the next new thing.

They might lose the notes you write, but the messages you give to your loved ones will be written on their hearts.

The effect of a love letter never ends. Write yours today!

Big Thank You Book Giveaway: my poetry book!

Have you gotten a note you treasure? Whom do you plan to write a note to? How is this Advent season going for you? Let me know anything on your mind and heart in the comments! I have my fifth and last book to give away and everyone who leaves a comment will get a chance to win it. It is my book of poetry from 2011 titled take. I will draw on Friday, Dec. 13, 2013 at 3 p.m. Good luck!