Today I've been thinking about the extra-wide bulldog tie my dad and uncle used to exchange back and forth each Christmas eve when I was a child. Our family would gather round our ornament-laden aluminum Christmas tree and open the hoards of gifts piled high. Since we had a large extended family, I remember we all gave and received oodles of gifts and the only present I can still remember was the Charley McCarthy ventriloquist doll Santa brought me and which I specifically requested. I honestly can't remember one single gift I received back then - all those gloves, toys and underwear long forgotten. What I do remember was watching my dad or my uncle (depending on who was giving THE TIE that year) opening the long thin rectangular box, the tissue crinkling to reveal the catsup, peanut-butter, and mustard-stained bulldog tie. Each year that dreaded tie became more grotesque and each year my family howled louder when my dad (or Uncle Leonard) held up for all to see the disgusting, but hilariously repulsive BULLDOG TIE.
Another thing I've been thinking of today is how totally dreary, damp, and cold it is, how short the days, how long the nights and how generally low nature's energy is this time of the year (at least in the Northern Hemisphere). As tourists and residents scramble to fill their bags and shopping carts with those last minute obligatory gifts, you can hardly tell nature is calling us to SLOW DOWN, CONTEMPLATE, BE STILL, TAKE A NAP. What a perfect time of year to sit still, reflect over the past year and envision the next. While the bears are hibernating and the bees are sleeping why is it we must defy the laws of nature by pumping up our economy and shopping carts with gifts that few will remember even six months from now?
I know "Christmas is for children", they say. The commercialism of Christmas is supposedly "for children", but I have a sneaking suspicion that the frenetic frenzy of gift-giving has evolved as a secret plot by merchants, stock-holders, and corporations to line their pockets and empty ours.
Maybe my uncle and dad were rebelling against the commercialism of Christmas. Aside from pretending to dislike one another, I think they may have been subliminally commenting on the mostly ridiculous gift-giving that their hard-earned money was supporting while setting them back hundreds of dollars during one exciting evening of totally forgettable and usually unwanted, unworn, and unappreciated meaningless toys and gifts.
I've always loved the sensuous colors of Christmas, the closeness of family and friends, the smell of baked goods, the ornaments, the anticipation, the lights and packages under the tree, but once we started opening those gifts, well for me at least, Christmas was really mostly a let-down.
My friend recently told me that each year on Christmas Day she, her husband and daughter have a ritual of volunteering locally to deliver Christmas dinner to a list of home-bound, usually senior, adults. My friend told me she feels it's important that her young daughter see into the lives of those less fortunate, to hopefully brighten that person's Christmas with a moment of connection, to sit and chat for a few minutes with someone who may not (other than on television) see face to face another human being that day. To me this is the true meaning of Christmas - to think of someone other than yourself, someone in need and give them unconditionally what you have to give. This, unlike reciprocal obligatory gift-giving, which often conjures up feelings of resentment and questions like, "why am I doing this?", is a simple act of kindness, love and true generosity. I imagine for the person who is homebound and perhaps without family, that knock on the door, the big plates of hot food, the visit, whether long or short, is what, on these cold and dreary winter days, warms lonesome hearts and minds in a meaningful and memorable way.