Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Spirit of Giving

Are you one of those people? Y'know the ones... the ones that come up with something cute and clever each and every holiday to give to your neighbors? Yeah... I used to be that person too.

But times have changed, dear readers. I am too busy and too broke to be handing out neighbor gifts. I stopped doing them about 2 Christmases ago. I thought perhaps that since I've stopped giving, I'd stop receiving too. But I haven't. Sure, some of the givers may change a little from year to year. But I have many neighbors who give without expecting something in return, and their thoughtfulness is appreciated. Seriously... how cool are they? Yup. Pretty dang cool!

Some of the cute and clever things I have received over the years... Once I received a cute whisk filled with Hershey's Kisses and a tag saying, "We WHISK you a Merry Kiss-mas!" I've received a plethora of cookies with tags saying things such as "From your COOKY neighbors" or "From your CRUMBY neighbors." I've received Jolly Time Popcorn with sentiments wishing me a Jolly Christmas. The list goes on and on of cute and clever things.

Then there are the slightly odd ones... a light bulb wishing me a Merry and BRIGHT Christmas. True. I could and would probably use that light bulb at some point down the road. I guess it just struck me as odd because it wasn't a "treat". It just seemed so... utilitarian. I mean, could you imagine a husband getting his wife a new vacuum or broom with a tag saying, "Hope this Christmas SWEEPS you off your feet"??? Yeah. Word to the wise... if any man ever gets me a vacuum for Christmas -- I don't care HOW clever he is-- I will be cutting him off from any "benefits" for an extended period of time. And for the record, if I ever lose my senses and ASK for a vacuum, there'd better be a dazzling bracelet that comes with it! ;)

Another odd and totally utilitarian gift I received one year was a bundle of twine. The saying was a bit of a stretch... something like May All the Christmas Joy be 'Twine this holiday season! Yeah. Lame. I 'bout wanted to hang myself with the rope. hehe.

I would hope that neighbors wouldn't feel the pressure to give to me. I had a friend once who was panicked because she didn't have enough money for neighbor gifts one year. So, she rummaged through her storage closets and found everyday items and came up with clever sayings. I'm beginning to think she was the one I got the twine from. Haha. But seriously... Sharing with neighbors shouldn't be that much of a stressor. I'd rather spend time in good conversation than receive an annual utilitarian "gift".

Then there is the gift of the chore. One year I received an empty stocking. In it were instructions for my family stating "between now and Christmas find ways to serve those you love. Then, as you complete each act, write them on a piece of paper and fill the stocking. On Christmas morning read through each of these acts together and talk about how these are the true gifts of Christmas." I get it, I do. I mean, it IS a nice sentiment, but I am a really busy person and sort of have my holiday activities already planned out. And if my family wanted to do an activity like that, fine. But don't try to pass it off as a "gift".

I received a similar gift in the form of an empty box one year. We were supposed to fill the box with the deeds of service we performed and then on Christmas Eve wrap up the box and stick it under the tree as a gift for Jesus. Again -- nice family lesson on Christmas. But if I want to do an activity like that, I will. I don't need someone to TELL me to do it and then try to pretend it's their GIFT to me. I dunno... in my book, a gift should not be an assignment. Perhaps I've got the wrong attitude?

I didn't really want to mention this, but since we're on the topic it's sort of hard to avoid. So, let's go there dear readers. The gift of the less-than-savory treat. I think we've all been the receiver of this a time or two. It's the neighbor who either can't cook but thinks she can, or just some odd-tasting thing that you are just sure is from a different culture.

Growing up, we had this neighbor... she sorta reminded me of the Hallmark "Maxine". She was older, short gray hair and ALWAYS had a cigarette hanging out of the corner of her mouth. She smoked while she did her yard work. She smoked while she cleaned her house. She smoked while she cooked. Heck! I wouldn't be surprised if she smoked while she showered! She would bake us these scrumptious looking cakes and bring them over all the time. The holidays were no exception. And, whichever of the kids lost to "rock-paper-scissors", was the one who got to sample the cake first. And as per usual, the frosting tasted like cigarette ash. Once the disgusting face was made, with accompanying gag reflexes, the rest of us would follow in-suit after swiping our own fingers through the frosting just to be "sure" the sibling was correct. And he always was. The frosting always tasted like two inches of crisco & cigarette ash. Always.

One year one of my Latino neighbors gave us some sort of homemade suckers. One lick and one of my children realized it was a red hot chili sucker. Yikes. Though I appreciated the sentiment of wanting to share their culture with us, a little warning would have been nice before my two-year-old came running and crying, flinging drool everywhere, proclaiming "hot! hot! hot!"

Inevitably, there always seemed to be some treat from a family member, friend, or coworker wherein its savor doesn't match up with their good intentions. And just what do you do in a case like that? Nothing except smile, nod and say a heartfelt "thank-you", for it truly is the thought that counts. No way would my mother have ever told the neighbor lady to quit bringing over her cig-ash-crisco-cake. We knew she brought it to us because she cared about us.

And while I do think that most of the time gifts are given with good intentions (even if they aren't the greatest), there will probably always be those duty-bound, obligatory, gifts that just seem to suck the life out of the true meaning of the holidays. One of my neighbors said that her landlord gave her a pair of scissors for Christmas. Wow. She was less than thrilled, to say the least. Follower, Robblogger said that his father's neighbor used to bring him stacks of old newspaper at the holidays. Really? Seems a little strange. Not sure what THAT was about.

PartyGal and I were talking about this feeling of obligatory gifts just the other night. She works for a jeweler. This man has money and LOTS of it! What could she possibly give him that he doesn't already have? And furthermore, her gifts appear more like mere tokens compared to the extravagant things they give; she can't compete with that. One year she suggested they draw 1 co-worker's name and just get something for that one, instead of stressing over a half-dozen or so gifts. It was agreed. They all drew names. She showed up for work the morning of the gift exchange and guess what -- they ALL had still bought something for EVERYONE, while there she sat with her one small gift. That made her feel much worse than before.

I was talking to a colleague of mine the other day about coworker gifts. He said that his office no longer does gifts for each other. Instead, all year long they pay $5 monthly "dues" in order to wear jeans on Fridays. Then, at the end of the year, the money is used to purchase gifts for residents of a local nursing home. It's been such a success and he said that the spirit of Christmas is much more "present" in presents like that.

By no means is this my soapbox on which I stand proclaiming foolishness or accusing commercialism of anyone that does choose to give gifts to friends, coworkers or neighbors. No, dear readers. This is merely an observation of how some things, as others, are often taken to the extreme.

I have some of the best neighbors in the whole wide world and they give to me throughout the year. Their generosity at the holidays is no exception. I feel loved and taken care of and watched over. I know that I will probably never be able to repay them all, but I hope to one day pay it all forward.

Giving, so that those whom receive will want to give too. I think THAT is the spirit of Giving.


Puphigirl said...

I remember the cigarette ash frosting. I remember scraping off the frosting and re-frosting it with fresh frosting.

Susie said...

You know...the same thing happens with holiday cards. There are people who have stopped sending me cards because I don't send them out. I mean, if you are going to send a card, send a card. Don't do it with the contigency that you are going to get one back. That is NOT the Christmas spirit.

Cassie the Sassie Lassie said...

I think I heard someone say that their office stopped doing office gifts because the gifts became extremely inappropriate. This year that happened to me... I haven't been able to get gifts for anyone outside of my family... I fell way bad!

Rob said...

*Insert witty comment here*

You've shut me up, and that takes some doing. Thank you for probably the greatest laugh this season.

And thank you for a laugh every time.

A very Merry Christmas

Big Sis said...

You hit it right on the nose! Merry Christmas!

RhondaLue said...

I haven't done neighbor gifts in a couple years either. My back doesn't allow me to stand for hours baking and I don't have the money to purchase for half the ward and our other friends and family too. I hope people don't think less of me and I hope my friendship and acts of service through the year display my affection so that they don't feel uncared for because I am sans holiday plate at Christmastime!

We have had some disgusting treats that we spit out and count our blessings for the calories saved..but mostly everything is yummy and devoured. ha ha