Best and Worst Gifts
A few years ago, in early Advent, I mentioned in a sermon that it just isn't Christmas for me until I hear the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's album, "White Christmas." It has the most beautiful song called "Baby, What You Gonna Be?" and a gorgeous lullaby on it, and my all-time favorite rendition of "The Little Drummer Boy" (and speaking of kitsch, I love me some Little Drummer Boy. It's my favorite Christmas carol and if you laugh at me for that, I will have to beat you up).
Anyway, I went on to say in the sermon that all I had in my possession was an old, warped cassette version of "White Christmas," and that since the recording was out of print, part of my Christmas tradition these days was to listen to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sing these old favorites sounding as though they were under water. I shared with the congregation my own rendition of a few phrases of a very warbly, distorted "Little Drummer Boy." We all heartily laughed. Fun sermon, nice memory.
That Christmas a very dear congregant gave me a wrapped gift, which I put under my Christmas tree for Christmas morning.
(I unwrap all my gifts on Christmas morning,* alone with my cat, in blessed silence, with a cup of coffee in my hand and a fire in the fireplace, worn out from Christmas Eve and savoring the stillness. If I listen very carefully I can hear the sound of the Whos down in Whoville singing wahoo doray, wahoo doray. The one year I dragged myself onto a train Xmas morning so that I could be with family by that afternoon, was a disaster. As much as I love my peeps, I shan't do that again. Christmas morning is beautiful solitude. Amtrak can wait 'til the next day. I open a bottle of my favorite Shramsberg bubbly, I watch the Muppets Christmas Carol, I eat Chinese, I hang out in my robe. If I go out to visit, I don't go far.)
So this Christmas morning I was unwrapping my gifts and I came across the one from Deanna. When I pulled back the paper, I gasped. It was the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's "White Christmas" album, which she had tracked down through e-bay (something I had not been able to successfully accomplish).
And that wasn't all. Anticipating that I would not have a working turntable, she had included a fresh new cassette of the recording. No more drowning Little Drummer Boy or warbly angels.
I sat there and hugged that album to me and cried. The cat came running.
We say that it's the thought that counts. It is, of course, but here's the thing: to love someone is to listen carefully to them, to attend to their lives and preferences closely enough that you know, and understand, and accept, what distinguishes them from the rest of the wolf pack you travel in. When it comes time for the exchanging of gifts, just as it can be overwhelmingly lovely to receive something as perfect as I did that Christmas, it can also be an ice pick between the shoulder blades to realize that someone you love hasn't been listening, hasn't been paying attention, and has -- from the looks of their gift -- no idea who you are.
What was your perfect gift?
And/or, in the spirit of confession -- because you need to get this off your back, don't you? -- what was the WORST gift you ever received, and what made it so totally wrong for you??
You can all post as anonymous and your secret will be safe with moi.
* I feel that my ability to wait until Christmas morning proves my moral and emotional superiority to my two siblings, who -- EVERY YEAR -- if they receive Christmas gifts before the actual day, will whine and beg and cajole to open it please, come on, pleeeaze! and totally ruin the surprise and also insult the Baby Jesus. You know who I'm talking about, KMW.