Three days to go. Were in the home stretch of the holiday shopping season, and if youre feeling more stress than Christmas spirit you arent alone.
It starts earlier every year. Stores decorate in October; Black Friday has all but eclipsed Thanksgiving. Its recreation for shopaholics, good for stores, good for the economy.
But as you rush to get the last gifts under the tree, consider this: Do you remember the gifts you bought last year? Do you remember the gifts you received last year?
I dont. Except for a new sweater found in a drawer after being forgotten for a year, I couldnt tell you a single thing I got last Christmas. Or bought for others. The gifts buried in the knee-deep sea of wrapping paper at our house undoubtedly included clothing, gift certificates and maybe a CD or two, but I honestly dont remember.
There have been exactly two gifts that I remember and will never forget. One was a guitar. I was a teenager and had been saving for it for over a year. It seemed odd that it had taken over a year to arrive since Id ordered it, but on Christmas morning the mystery was solved.
It had actually arrived months earlier, but my parents had sworn the dealer to secrecy. Theyd made up the $150 difference between what Id saved and the purchase price a lot of money for them in those days and on Christmas morning it was waiting. It was the most beautiful thing Id ever seen and the best gift Id ever received, or would receive.
The other gift remembered for life was one my wife and I gave to her entire family. Our principal possessions then included one small child and an old, North End house that devoured money faster than a bloodhound can down a plate of bacon. We were, in other words, pretty close to being broke.
Financially, Christmas couldnt have come at a worse time. We were in the process of replacing the plumbing, the wiring, the furnace and other antiquities. To say that we didnt have a lot of money for gifts would have been an understatement. We might have had $100 total to spend on what was then a fairly large family parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins. Short of gift certificates to McDonalds, it was obvious we couldnt buy something for everybody.
So we decided to make our gifts. Specifically, Christmas memory boxes. I did a fair amount of woodworking in those days, so we went to a lumber store and bought boards to make the sides, laminate for the backs and cedar strips to make compartments inside the boxes. I routed grooves near the front edges to hold panes of glass, which we had cut to size at a glass shop.
That sounds simple, and for a master woodworker it would have been. My skills fell somewhat short of the master level, however, and by the time we got the idea, time had grown short. The number of boxes needed meant that I was working in my father-in-laws basement shop well into Christmas Eve.
My wife was equally busy making the contents of the compartments. Each compartment represented a branch of the family, each item in the compartments a person. My wifes mother, then a secretary with the Washington State Patrol, was represented by a law enforcement insignia, her husband the deep-sea fishing buff by a fishing pole. Her cousin, then in her last year of college, by a cap and gown. Her uncle, who worked for Boeing, by an airplane. Her grandmother by miniature knitting needles and so on.
Our compartment contained a miniature newspaper for yours truly, a Joker playing card for my wife the family wit, a doll for our toddler daughter and a baby bottle.
When the boxes were opened, the baby bottle had everyone stumped. Until my wifes aunt guessed the obvious it was a way of announcing that we were expecting another child.
You could say it was corny, and in a way it was. But all of the relatives who got them still reminisce about them and have them displayed in their homes some 30 years later.
Why did those gifts, which cost a few dollars each, make such an impression? Because there was something of us and of the whole family in them. We didnt need to spend a lot of money or go on a shopping spree. Our gifts were simple, but they came from the heart. It seemed to be enough.
Tim Woodwards column appears every other Sunday and is posted on www.woodwardblog.com the following Mondays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.