We are entering that sacred time of year. In every culture around the globe there is a celebration this time of year with different names, but the purpose is to bring people together for warmth and love, in the dead of winter.
In some of the celebrations gifts are exchanged. There is no question this has gotten out of hand. (See feeding frenzy tragedy at WalMart in earlier blog). Those of us who have been around a while, have seen gift-giving move in a troubling trajectory to where it might as well be skipped, i.e., you keep the $50 you would spend to buy me a "gift card" and I'll keep the $50 I would spend to buy you a "gift card," and we'll both have avoided wasting a lot of time and effort. Whose got time any more? And for heaven's sake I wouldn't want to have to THINK about what you might like. Ok, yeah, there are "lists," but that takes time too.
The Depression: there was no money for gifts.
1944: There was a World War going on. A gift might be Christmas cookies, because there was a sugar ration going on.
1950: You might give your child their winter jacket for Christmas. Their ONE winter jacket. And perhaps one toy. A doll, let's say. It did not have a name and it did not have a boyfriend, car, swimming pool ... It was not mass produced. It was probably a stuffed doll, and may have been made by the old woman down the street, or even the child's own mother or grandmother. It was "impolite" to "ask" for a gift. And part of loving someone was having the empathy (an emotional intelligence competency) to know what they would like to receive.
1955: It was still "the loving hands of home." It was "meaningful" to give someone something you had made. By hand. Exchange of Christmas baked goods too! The "needy person" in the community was remembered. The school kids might gather goods and take them over to the person's house in personand spend some time visiting. It didn't make the newspaper and wasn't considered a big deal. It was just what people did.
1960: More abundance, so more under the tree. But brand names didn't exist and weren't important. You might be asked to make a list for Santa (I never was, as a kid), but the list would say "tennis shoes," not "Hook Up Kicksiders from Ragtail Manufactury. P.S. Type II." It was considered questionable taste to send someone a check as a gift. Many hand-made gifts were still given - a wooden train, a knitted sweater. (See Mister Rogers below)
1970: The lists began. But they still included actual objects that gave the gift-giver latitude and required decision. In other words something that someone shopped for, chose and put some thought into. Helping the needy became institutionalized (impersonal). There was Elf Louise, and Blue Santa... Corporations could then participate and get publicity in the newspaper. (Unlike the Worcester Wreath Company which has just quietly supplied all those Arlington wreaths all these years. On their website they tell us that "it began in 1992 as one man's dream and a hearfelt gesture."
1980: It begins to blur. Let's fast-forward to 2008. You now register - an assumption that gifts will be given you. But why exchange lists when there are gift cards? Everyone finds it "easier" to just send gift cards back and forth. Takes no time or effort, just money. And, theoretically, the more the better.
Which brings us to ... an article by Dana Gerhardt that I am going to paraphrase because it uses different language for "materialism."
At this time of year, when we are prone to instrospection, and more spiritual things, consider this:
[I]t's nice to have an impressive [beach house in Malibu, two cars, and a 4000 ft. sw. home]. Walk through any graveyard, however, and [materialism] quickly loses its importance. You won't see "wealthy banker," "top insurance salesman," or "the sexiest guy on the block" etched onto any headstone. All the worldly success people struggle for and achieve dissolves at the cemetery into more personal descriptions: "beloved husband," "loving mother," "devoted sister."
[These terms are about what is most important in life.) In deathbed scenes, people rarely express regret or gather comfort from their life's career choices. They don't wish for a little extra time to finish up that memo or earn another few thousand dollars. Rather, they wonder if they loved well enough, if they used their time to touch life deeply enough, if they traveled far enough on the spiritual path. Rarely do the dying obsess about [material] things.
Now about Mister Rogers and that red sweater. March 20th has been declared "Wear a Sweater" day because that was Fred Rogers' birthday. Just ask Mr. McFeely, Speedy Delivery. (At least 3 generations of Americans will know what I am talking about.)
Q: Who knit Mister Rogers' sweater?
A: His mother Nancy McFeely Rogers. It was red. She knit all his sweaters, one a month, every one of the cardigans he wore on the show.
For the kind of learning and enrichment that the holiday season can bring to you, and your children and your grandchildren, take a look at Mangesh Hattikudur's repent, 15 Reasons Mister Rogers Was the Best Neighbor Ever. The man has learned something over the years.