Monday, December 04, 2006

Best and Worst Gifts

Philocrites and commenters have brought about a beautiful memory for me:

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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know about the best gift I've ever gotten (unless best friends count)...but I do know the best gift I've given.

Said best friend loves jewelry. When I was visiting her in her hometown of New York, on my last day in town I bought her a silver chain and locket from Tiffany. The look on her face when she saw her gift was priceless and worth every penny I spent. I don't know if I'll ever be able to top it (or if I should try).

Blogger powderblue said...

People who listen throughout the year for meaningful gift ideas may nonetheless forget them at holiday crunch time. I used to.

Notes can get lost, but not so easily when they’re recorded in your calendar at December 25th.

(This system works for other important birthdays, too.)

Anonymous jinnis said...

great idea, powderblue.

I felt really good about a gift I gave to family members last Xmas. They were months into owning their new home in the Boston area, and we had lots of conversation about their plans for sprucing up a lovely yet little abode. So I sent them the boxed set of the Not So Big House Collection. That went over better than any gift in recent memory. I felt great for listening so well to them.

And on the just received end - some family members thought I needed a little New England atmosphere in Texas. They sent my spouse and I a table-top balsam tree from L.L. Bean! It has a wonderful scent. And I have resisted (so far successfully) the urge to go online to see what it cost. . .

Blogger Ellis said...

So I am not so much with the fashion, and Beauty Tips makes me wish I were. Of course I am a broke girl most of the time. BUT:

At the big Michigan Avenue church where I work, there's a clothes closet, and the staff is allowed to look through the leftovers. Last week I got six designer suits, three pairs of winter pants, two jackets, and some shirts. It must be two thousand dollars' worth of clothing. Merry Christmas to me!

Holden consistently overawes me with her gifts. And my friends, who know I like a)books, b)chocolate and c)sparkly things, very reliably find things I adore. But the best gift ever was my third-grade Christmas Pound Puppy, who sits on my bed at this very moment.

Blogger Cee Jay said...

One Christmas when I was about seven, my parents were really broke. I think there had been a strike that year, and my dad had been out of work. They had no money to buy expensive presents for us for Christmas but managed to save up enough for some small gifts for my three year old brother and a doll for me. Then my father took old orange crates and made them into a stove and sink by painting them white. The burners were old coffee can lids painted black. Black thread spools were the knobs. The sink had a hole in the top where he put a small wash basin and my mother made a pleated skirt to cover the front of it. Some plastic dishes were hidden on the shelves below the sink. The doll had four nice outfits stitched carefully by my mother late at night while I was asleep and my dad was working on the kitchen set. They were made from the same fabric that she used to make my dresses. It was a wonderful Christmas and I never realized until I was much older how grand those gifts were.

Blogger PeaceBang said...

Such talented, creative parents! Thanks, Cee Jay!

Anonymous Anonymous said...

i used to really love picking out the right gifts for everyone, but i've somehow lost that. i still like to find good stuff for people, but its considerably fewer people that i buy for these days.

my husband might have the tie for best and worst gifts. the first gifts he ever gave me were a hairbrush (awesome, i had just lost or broken mine) and a beaded necklace he made himself. inexpensive (college years) but very very thoughtful

a few other times since then he's managed to do all of his christmas shopping on ebay. he will get really smitten with some piece of jewelry he thinks will be awesome for me, then it turns out to be far uglier in person. and when it comes down to it i didn't like the piece as it appeared in the photos all that much anyway.


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