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Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Wrapping, Unwrapping, and Wrapping Up the Old Year

Good morning! Last dawn of 2019!
In the days preceding Christmas, my writing desk displayed a row of colorful gift bags for local Arizona friends and neighbors. “Would you like me to find a box you could put those in,” the Artist asked, “so you wouldn’t be so crowded?” I thanked him but declined the offer. “I like to look at them,” I told him. For me, those colorful bags went some distance toward making up for the lack of the fragrant Fraser or balsam fir I would have had back in northern Michigan.

Outgoing gifts, only partially reflected in memorabilia-crowded mirror

Incoming gifts -- and ours to open!
Over on my bookshelf was a substitute “tree,” a shorter, less elaborate mesquite branch than the one I found and used last year, but something, at least, on which to hang Moravian folded paper stars and other ornaments from sisters and friends. I also cleared the remaining top of the bookcase of other items to make room for gift bags from sisters and friends. In that way, my book and writing corner served, for a little while, as our Christmas corner. 

lighting my corner of the darkness
Because I don’t know about you, but when the short, dark days of December roll around, I “need a little Christmas,” and I’m completely sympathetic to Jo March’s complaint that “Christmas [wouldn’t] be Christmas without any presents!” Poor as those “little women” felt, yet they managed to scrounge up gift surprises for each other and for their mother, and in my frugal life it means a lot to me to be able to do the same. 

Still in Michigan, and starting way back in summertime, I had great fun thinking up and making and buying little things and making a happy collection of items for the bags I would later assemble. But I’m lucky. I have sisters! The Artist thinks my gift bags are a “girl thing,” and maybe they are. I do know that my sisters and I have a wonderful time finding and buying things for each other. “Oh, Bettie will love this,” Deborah will say to me as we stand together in her friend’s gift shop, and I agree. “You’re right. That’s perfect for her!”

Gifts on any occasion need not be expensive or elaborate or enormous to say “I love you” to recipients. It is indeed the thought that counts. But giving tangible body to the thought counts, too, I find. For instance, my sisters and I typically give each other cute socks, tee shirts, books, holiday ornaments, and kitchen items, and whenever I put on a shirt or pair of socks from a sister, or pick up a book or admire an ornament or use something in my kitchen that a sister gave me, I think of that sister, and she is right there with me. The gift keeps on giving!

New shirt from a sister!

New socks from a sister!

New apron from a sister!
more new, heavenly soft shirts
Sometimes, surprisingly people other than the givers are with me, too, through gifts I receive. Such is the case with a book one sister sent me this year, a book of poetry by the cousin-in-law of a friend of the Artist’s and mine. I have yet to meet Cele Bona, but her poems are powerful, and her name and relationship to our late friend Al Bona, himself a friend we also admired for his poetic gifts, brings Al to mind, though he has been gone for years.

Years! They pass so quickly! Some years I send Christmas cards, other years New Year’s cards, and sometimes no cards at all. But the truth is that I enjoy buying bright postage stamps and taking stacks of cards to the post office almost as much as I enjoy going in with gift packages to mail. I often think of a friend who hated going to the post office (and now there are ways to avoid the p.o. altogether), but whether I’m at home in Northport, Michigan, or in Willcox, Arizona, the post office is almost always a delightful stop for me. I love the way the United States Postal Service connects us all, and when I go to the p.o. I feel that connection, a little the way I feel it when I go to my precinct voting place in northern Michigan (where I’m happy to say we use paper ballots!). We’re all in this together, these places say to me. We may be far apart in the moment, but these places, these rituals, these bits of paper and other stuff provide us with tangible links to each other.

A friend back home collects our mail and sends it on to us.

[Reminder: Gifts can be wrapped in brightly colored recyclable tissue or reusable cloth. Paper envelopes that hold cards can be recycled, and the cards themselves can be repurposed. Besides, it’s only once a year!

But just as I never tell anyone, friend or bookstore customer, “You have to read this book!” -- I only make suggestions or offer ideas -- so I do not intend to guilt-trip anyone into buying or giving Christmas presents. Whether or not one celebrates this holiday or any other, giving presents in the U.S. is, like so many other decisions in this freedom-loving country, an individual choice. Neither am I going to go all religious here (wouldn’t that be inappropriate?!) and dwell on the Infant as God’s gift or the gifts the wise men brought to the Infant, because the truth is that for centuries even Christians did not celebrate Christmas or exchange gifts. Is Dickens responsible for kicking off the holiday we all know today as “traditional”? Who knows, and what does it matter? Philosopher I may be, but there are some things I don’t want to argue about, and Christmas is one of them. 

And just as I will not guilt-trip anyone into giving gifts, neither do I intend to let anyone guilt-trip me into abstaining from gift-giving. I love that part of Christmas! I love looking for, thinking about, finding, selecting, buying, making, planning, wrapping and giving gifts for Christmas! It is a big part of my holiday joy. No colorfully wrapped packages? How sad! Maybe someday I will be an old lady in a nursing home, hunched up in a rocking chair and unable to indulge myself in what is, for me, a very modest seasonal orgy, but until then I’m not giving it up! 

For now, though, all the wrapped gifts have been unwrapped to exclamations of delight, bright bags and tissue are put away for another year, socks and tee shirts tucked into drawers, and soon it will be time to take down the ornaments and stow those in cupboards and closets, time to unplug and remove lights from the cabin windows. — But no, maybe I’ll leave those lights up a while longer. They are such tiny lights, such brave little lights, after all, and we do need our courage and indications of each other’s loving presence as we go into another new year, don’t we? So with that in mind, here is my wish for family and friends and everyone in the world, known to me or unknown: 

Amid the challenges and struggles that another year will certainly bring, may we find also hours and days of joy and gratitude and love, and may we return again and again to a calm center of peace. 

Happy new year, one and all!

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