The second package we watched for also came from the East Coast. Also, from New Brunswick. Our Dad’s family lived there, and we were especially close to our Sussex cousins. We each received one gift from them, as they did from us. Looking back, none of the gifts were expensive, but when we opened them, they were valuable beyond measure. It felt like magic had been packed in those parcels.
I don’t have a strong memory of any of those exact gifts, but I seem to recall receiving a powder puff, shaped like a little mitten that I could put my hand inside, and that had powder sewn right into it. None of the gifts would have cost much to buy. I am guessing that many of the ones we received might have been purchased at Steadman’s in Sussex. Looking back, I now understand the gift wasn’t the important part of the exchange. What was important, what our parents taught us in the exchange of the gifts was two-fold.
First, they taught us that wrapping mattered. Not the wrapping paper, or the bow, or the gift tag, or even the tidy folded corners, but the actual act of wrapping. When we opened the brown paper package from our cousins, memories of love poured out. Inevitably we would feel the exact same kind of excitement and closeness we always felt during our precious summer weeks together. It was as if when they wrapped the gifts, little bits of themselves got caught up inside too, and came pouring out when the tape was peeled off.
I’ve never talked to my cousins about this, but I have a feeling that on Christmas morning, when they opened the little gifts we sent them, they likely had the same experience. I’m guessing none of them can remember any particular gift we sent, but that they can remember the excitement of the package arriving in the mail and the feelings and memories that would have washed over them when they opened them. I know we didn’t buy expensive gifts or use fancy paper either, but I know we did pack our hearts in those little packages.
The second thing our parents taught us was that the appropriate way to acknowledge a gift was with a thank you note. So, inevitably, on one of the days following Christmas, we’d sit at the kitchen table and, using brand new note paper, the kind that comes in nice box with matching envelopes and that very likely was one of the gifts from our cousins, we set about sending a letter to say thank you. Even though we likely had to be prodded to get started, the writing of the thank you letters became a treasured tradition. It wasn’t that the letters themselves were literary treasures. No doubt, mine would have started with:
Dear Joan. How are you? I am fine.
No, the content was not remarkable. But understanding that by sending the letters we were connecting again, and even better that we would get a letter back, made the task feel exciting and important.
I don’t know if our parents thought through the lessons they were teaching us. It’s possible the buying and sending of the gifts was just one more in a long string of jobs they had on their Christmas to-do list. But if our parents hadn’t given us the opportunity to spend precious time with our cousins each summer, no gift arriving from them at Christmas could have felt so good to receive.
Most of my gifts have been purchased and wrapped for this year. I know that most of my gifts won’t be the gift at all. The real gifts are the little connections and experiences and conversations we have throughout the year. The knowing that we value others company and presence.
Christmas hasn’t quite arrived yet this year, but I think I’m going to do my ‘shopping’ early and often for 2020. Then, I will rest easy knowing I’ve already given the best gift. The little wrapped one will still be fun to buy, wrap and give, but I know what will be remembered long after the paper has been recycled is not the gift, but the relationship.
May your home, heart and gift-giving be filled with love this Christmas season!
My inquiry for you this week is, ‘What gift are you giving?’
Elizabeth is a certified professional Leadership Coach, and the owner of Critchley Coaching. She is the founder and president of the Canadian charity, RDL Building Hope Society. She works with corporations, non-profits and the public sector, providing leadership coaching. She creates and facilitates custom workshops for all sizes of groups. She has particular expertise in facilitating Strategic Plans for organizations. Contact Elizabeth to learn how to pick out the perfect gift!