Tuesday, 6 December 2016
The Significance of Giving
Over the blog years I have mentioned the myth and mystery of the legend of Bishop Nicholas The Miracle Worker several times, this link will take you to a story of what happened one Sankt Nikolaus eve in our family.
Today, Nicholas, in the guise of Santa Claus, is the Bringer of Presents rather than the Miracle Worker. Christmas is just around the corner and the orgy of shopping and giving continues. We give throughout the year, of course, always have done, since time immemorial. I bet the first caveman worked a tiger’s tooth to present his inamorata with a trinket to adorn herself. Giving has been an important part of mankind’s history, an opportunity to show our love, respect and affection for those we hold dear. Psychologically, it appears that the giver often benefits more from the act of giving than the recipient.
"Have you done your Christmas shopping? I’m all finished already, I usually start in October and by the beginning of December I only have a few trifles left to get.” This statement is not at all an unusual one, it’s a sort of rite of passage to differentiate between the efficient, grown up ones, and those who leave everything until the last minute. Which hat fits you?
More and more I come across a small, but growing, minority of people who feel uncomfortable about our habit of splurging and dishing out often thoughtless, meaningless, unwanted tat. These people make donations to charity, both in their own name as well as the recipient's name. I can’t see a child being terrifically happy when told: "the money for your present went towards a bed for a homeless child, a donkey sanctuary in Transylvania, to feed a family of four over Christmas. Maybe the child would feel a warm glow momentarily, but the lack of a present would be felt much more keenly.
There are people who make a present of their time at Christmas, working in homeless shelters which take in rough sleepers over the holidays. I have the greatest respect for them and their selflessness. They are not always people who themselves are on their own, I have been told that whole families derive great pleasure from such an act of kindness.
And giving for the sake of receiving is always wrong. We have a saying on the Lower Rhine which goes: “if you throw a sausage to gain a side of bacon you may be a good reckoner but you have no idea what giving means.
Giving presents can be a vexed business. My Dad used to say, year after year, “just a small token of appreciation will do, nothing fancy, nothing ostentatious, nothing grand or expensive.” Poor man, that is exactly what he got, a pouch of tobacco, some cigars, socks, a bottle of Schnapps. I believe he was happy. Besides, in the early postwar years we had no money to buy anything that wasn’t absolutely useful and none the worse for that.
Ephraim Kishon tells the tragicomic story of a spoilt young couple who swore to each other that they would not, would NOT, give each other Christmas presents. Come Christmas Eve they both unpacked great piles of the most glitteringly expensive gifts. Both had deeply expected the other to break their promise, neither had been able to bear the tension of not-giving - giving in a purely material sense.
I am not Scrooge, I am pro-giving, in a small way. Giving is symbolic. It stands for thoughtfulness, solidarity, affection, closeness, friendship, love. Even a friendly smile, a kind word, an offer of help, a listening ear are gifts worth giving. If anybody wants to add a book and a box of chocolates I will happily accept them.