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Gifts that Matter

Living and Growing

Posted: January 1, 2012 - 12:02am

Christmas presents! I love asking people about their Christmas presents. My favorite question, generally posed during the last frenzied week or two before Christmas, is “What presents did you get last year?” Because as we make ourselves crazy shopping and searching and spending for the bounties to put under the tree this year, almost no one can remember anything they got from just the year before.

We generally leave our opened gifts out under and around the tree for a few days before putting things away — but as they get sorted into sock drawers, bookshelves, the DVD cabinet and toy boxes they start to blend in with all the other socks, books, DVDs and toys, so it’s hard to remember anything particularly new or special. Even now, only a week later, it’s a little challenging to remember exactly what I received.

Still, the giving and sharing of gifts matter, in ways we don’t always expect. A friend, following my advice, asked her teenager what gifts she had received last year. Her answer was, “I don’t remember exactly, but I know it was a nice Christmas.” So much is wrapped into that: the true gifts of family together, safe and happy; a special meal shared; music and decorations that made it a set-apart time — all contributed to a memory of “nice.”

I was surprised this year. A friend of my son has become near and dear, and I wanted to give him something special. I asked what kind of things this 20-something eclectic liked and wanted. His list included all things dinosaur and Batman, licorice, and jams and preserves. I searched Juneau high and low, but Batman is so yesterday — all I could manage was a Hot Wheels Batmobile as a stocking stuffer. I picked up a small jar of salmonberry jam and some licorice Jelly Belly jellybeans for his stocking, as well. But the dinosaur books, models, and such I found were geared for a much younger age group. Then I remembered a book at Costco, a giant slab of a book that was as grown-up a dinosaur book as anyone could hope. The postage cost more than the book, but I wanted to make this first shared Christmas memorable.

I couldn’t wait for his response. I knew he was going to be overwhelmed and delighted with that book, I just knew it! And sure enough, a couple days after Christmas, I received a note: “You have no idea how excited I am to eat this jelly. Thank you so much.” That was his whole response. And I just can’t be disappointed. It just makes me laugh. By this time next year, he may or may not remember anything in particular about one more dinosaur book in his library, but he’ll remember the special and unique experience of savoring salmonberry jam on a hot English muffin, jam he could only get from someone who loves him very much in Alaska. That’s something I think we’ll both treasure, a true gift of Christmas sharing and celebration.

• Sue Bahleda is a reverend at Resurrection Lutheran Church.

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