I just read a heart-felt Facebook post about the tyranny of holiday shopping. The writer pleaded for sanity: instead of Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Sunday; how about helping a neighbor rake leaves, or volunteer at a soup kitchen, or donate to a worthy charity, he asked. His point is well taken; who could argue that helping others is the most perfect reflection of the spirit of the season. And it would be saner, still, to spend time entertaining family and friends at Thanksgiving, than camping overnight at the parking lot of Wal-Mart.
“The worse kind of -ism is commercialism” says a character in my favorite holiday movie, Miracle on 34th Street.
Yet among the most wonderful memories I have of the holidays is shopping. My mother would take a day off from work and we would spend an entire day together buying ornaments and gifts. It’s a tradition I share with my son.
Then there are the remembered gifts. When I was newly married and struggling through college, I managed to save just enough money to surprise my husband on Christmas morning with two tickets to Paris. Paris is wonderful, but the sharpest shared memory we have is my husband opening this gift in our much-too-small, all-so-very-cold apartment on West 10th Street.
Today, my heart spills over when I remember my son James, then 4, shaking from head to toe Christmas morning as he surveyed the bounty of packages under the Christmas tree. As new parents, we over spent on fancy Lego sets, and trains and radio controlled airplanes; but my son fell in love with a simple red plastic tool box. A love so deep, he carried it everywhere and, for months, took it to bed with him. This $10.95 plastic tool box is a finely etched shared memory that will last both our lifetimes.
My husband still remembers a particular bike he received at Christmas—the exact sound of the bell and the elongated handlebars. He marvels at how his parents knew exactly what bike he wanted and how stealthily they had hid the purchase until Christmas morning.
The truth is for us, as it is for my Facebook friend, there is little we need; but I still smile at the memory of a recent Christmas morning, opening a badly wrapped gift from my son: a beige hat I had admired during our shopping day together. I love it dearly, even if I really do not need a hat.
There is a beauty in giving and getting. Just re-read O’Henry’s classic short story, The Gift of the Magi, to understand why we try so hard, every season, to find the right gift: the bike that delights, the red tool box with a toy hammer, the beige hat.
My Facebook friend and the fictional character from a treasured old movie are right; there is too much of the wrong type of ‘ism this time of year. But still, to me, a simple neighborly gesture such a raking a neighbor’s leaves or a plain red plastic tool-box purchased from a big box store both reflect the best ism of all: altruism.