Friday, December 04, 2009
As I work to complete my Christmas shopping, I have been thinking over what makes a good Christmas gift. As I mentioned last year, we do three gifts per child (plus a stocking). And to some extent, I try to do as my friend Montse does: one toy, one book, one piece of clothing. But I give some leeway: I tend to get two toys for the boys instead of clothing, unless it's really cool clothing, like a hobbit cloak. (More on that later...) But beyond these parameters (and readers of this page know how much I delight in parameters), what other qualities transform something from a bargain piece of clothing to a bit of magic in a box known as a Christmas gift? Along with my ruminations, I'll include links to some gifts our family has enjoyed in the past, to share the joy with you.
Weightiness. The first virtue of a gift, for me, is its quality: it must please the eye and hand, and that generally means quality. For some reason, I can't find myself shopping for Christmas gifts at the dollar store, though sometimes I've gathered stocking stuffers there. Real things such as wood and wool satisfy the quality of weightiness. The present must feel substantial, even if the object itself is small. It should have craftsmanship that shows up in being handmade, by myself or by a fairly-paid craftsman. I admit, one reason I buy fewer gifts is to ensure I have enough money to be able to afford to give each child at least one thing that is truly lovely. As you know, Nova Natural is one of the places I turn to for fine craftsmanship. This year I bought my young son their handmade interlocking blocks, and my toddler their rainbow rings. Small packages, but oh so satisfying to wrap. And we love to give good hardcover fairytales with beautiful illustrations, like this one we discovered last year.
Pretty. Listening to the book on CD of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, I realize that this word was once used to apply to everything from horse carriages to books to gloves, without the feminine connotation the word has today. There should be a zest and a bit of a sparkle to a Christmas gift. It can't be simply ordinary: it must be cunning or bright or handsome. These are gifts we tell our children baby Jesus has picked out for them, and surely He would pick something that would shine. The patchwork dresses above were $5 on clearance, but their sweet floral embroidery and matching purses upgraded them to the status of Christmas presents for toddler girls who still get excited about the very idea of pockets. The paint set was a similar bargain at Michael's craft store: what sets it apart is the sheer multitude of colors: every color of the rainbow a dedicated artist could desire (and since we've bought this item in the past, I can swear that these colors don't dissolve like sugar after one or two uses).
Rare. A Christmas gift should also have an element of the rare, the unique. eBay is my favorite trove for unearthing such treasure. I remember well the year I bought my husband a medieval Polish coin from a dealer in Israel, and a handcarved wooden horse from a woodcarver in Poland. Now Etsy showcases unique handwork as well, though without eBay's wonderful atmosphere of an International garage sale. This year I bought quilt squares from Great Britain, and last year I was able to buy embroidered boutique dresses there at half-price as last year's styles were sifted away. Vintage clothing yields some good finds too.
Various. There is a wonderful variety in gold, frankincense, and myrrh. While they are all kingly gifts, their variety isn't predictible. So should it be with a good Christmas gift. With only three gifts, I try to ensure that each gift is a very different sort of gift from the others. For example, suppose you give your child nothing but three books? He has no choice but to read, and somehow this seems too narrow, not spacious and adventurous. It also runs the risk of failing to please the giver. So even if your family member requests nothing but books, or nothing but Legos, try to introduce an element of pleasing variety. Thus I try to give gifts that allow an active child has a choice of activities. He could run outside and play with a new slingshot, or he could curl up and read a book, or he could sit in his room and make paper airplanes.
Surprising. What is our God if not surprising? A babe in a manger was certainly not the sort of King we would have expected, and a fitting Christmas gift should have an element of the unexpected. What fun it is to try to surprise the person with something they wanted, but in a way they didn't expect? (Hopefully better!) I noticed my husband struggling to fit logs into a tiny woodbox, and then found a more accomodating wood rack last Christmas. My son wanted to make his sister a toy barn. We did, but I surprised him by including a set of wonderful wooden farm animals inside the box (which came at a surprisingly reasonable price!).
This is by no means an exhaustive list! I hope you enjoy the links and the reflections, and I wish you well in your hunt for Christmas presents. May it transmit to you some of the joy that God Himeslf felt as He prepared His Christmas gift for the world.