Tuesday, 6 December 2016

The Significance of Giving

Did you leave your boots out last night for Sankt Nikolaus to fill with presents from the sack he carried over his shoulders as he roamed the lands in search of good children?  If you have been good since he last came this night a year ago I am sure he didn’t forget you.

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.




33 comments:

  1. I'm always much happier to receive something hand made or home made than something bought in the shops.

    ReplyDelete
  2. As a Greek Orthodox we celebrate Saint Nicholas too, and everyone who is named Nichole or Nicholas celebrate their "name day" today. It's a big celebration today! I should have put my boot out last night!!! :)

    ReplyDelete
  3. I agree with you. Children, though, being selfish because they are children, should have the joy of a present or presents on a special day. The adults, being selfish, because they are adults, deserve to see the joy on a child's face as he/she opens the gift on that special day. Despite the constant horrible news of the world, we all need to find joy, even if it is because of a meaningless toy.

    I'm with your dad, a pair of socks and something edible or drinkable would make me happy.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Loved your earlier post.
    I get a bit overwhelmed at this time of year.
    Baking, shopping, making lists to beat myself up with...
    Just the same I am in favour of gifts. Small ones. From the heart. And will do a shift on the crisis line. Which is another gift I give myself.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I love giving. It's often difficult for me to know what to give because I so seldom see family. I try to give things that would make anyone happy. It's easier with the servers in the restaurants and other places that Willy Dunne Wooters and I frequent. They are thrilled to receive some extra money and a little gift. This morning I gave my doctor's assistant a bar of peppermint soap, homemade by Donna at The Poor Farm.

    Love,
    Janie

    ReplyDelete
  6. Presents for children, of course....but not for adults.
    So you had Rupprecht, while in Belgium they had Black Peter - still have if he is not banned under PCism these days.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I have too much stuff. And the things I really need in a material way are things that I could never ask for as a gift, but need to get myself. (Yes, please -- on my list I would like a new stove. And refrigerator." I don't think so!) I would much prefer to receive a small, thoughtful gift or gifts, especially something someone took the time to make. One of the best presents I ever got was when Rick re-did my bathroom and grouted the shower and did wallpaper. It was quite an investment of time but we have both benefited from it.

    But oh, I love to give presents -- and sometimes that backfires because people give you presents back. Among my closest friends we have a rule -- edible, readable, wearable or experiential. Lunch out. Being together. I do have one set of friends who established an endowment at their university and while we'll exchange presents, their greatest gift goes to the endowment. A win win. And if anyone did that for my theatre, I would be thrilled!

    ReplyDelete
  8. I do love to give a little something each year. I especially love making gift cards, wrapping the presents, and putting bows on boxes. Last year, I had an especially hard time making dates to visit with people over the holidays. Everyone seemed to be so thinly stretched, time-wise. This year, I hope to be able to give gifts much sooner than February like last year!

    ReplyDelete
  9. I do think the over the top spending must buy everyone I know a present is way out of hand. what's the point of giving something to someone that was bought in haste or desperation out of a sense of obligation. our kids are in their late 30s, grandkids middle to late teens. usually I just give the g'kids money and nothing to the kids. but they don't feel obligated to buy us presents either. and we don't give each other gifts either. my husband came from a family that didn't do that and while I tried to convert him and was always disappointed when he regularly failed to get me a gift or if he did it was something so totally not me that I wondered why he had bothered. in the end, he converted me. if I see something I want around the holiday season or my birthday that I like or want, I buy my own present.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I love how you pulled this fine post together at the end. Thank You for this gift of yourself, and all through the year.

    ReplyDelete
  11. As an agnostic, I do give to a number of my favorite charities through out the year. Being also a practical soul we ask for lists of needs and wants, which means I have to wait for those to arrive before I shop!

    ReplyDelete
  12. Wishing you and yours a very awesome X Mas season, friend Friko ... Love, cat.

    ReplyDelete
  13. We give presents to the kids, and charity to our fellow adults, and everybody seems to feel a little better.

    ReplyDelete
  14. My ex sister in law often takes in someone who is alone, so far always men, for Christmas dinner. They seem to enjoy being among a large and rowdy family. We were thinking of buying my sister a symbolic charity goat as a Christmas gift but we can't bring ourselves to do it. Schnapps! I haven't had schnapps for years, and now I feel I must have some.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I was given one of those goats a few years ago, by the only two family members I had left. They were sure I would love it. I was polite, and once they left, I wept. A tangible gift is a way to make love tangible. I would have happily unwrapped a peppermint stick. Don't do the goat.

      Delete
    2. We did give our football-mad, childless but child-loving aunt a charity present, a few years ago, that was a big success .
      On her behalf we 'invested' in a small African amateur junior team . She enjoyed the feeling of being involved, however slightly .

      Delete
  15. We do one gift at solstice each and are so happy and content with each other and the coming of the light. Used to do packed house Xmas then 4 at homeless shelters (amazing). The quiet ones are the best.
    XO
    WWW

    ReplyDelete
  16. Many years ago, I celebrated Christmas at Salisbury. I stayed in an inn, alone, and was feeling the absence of family sharply. On Christmas morning, there was an orange and a peppermint stick outside my door. It was wonderful.

    When it come to gifts, a hundred is too many. Ten may be too many. But the difference between one and none is infinite.

    ReplyDelete
  17. I love making and giving gifts. But the gift list is restricted to family, and this year, just to grandchildren. We're paying for four nights in a condo in the mountains for the family and that's our gift to our children. I confess that I'm finding it a little difficult not to be thinking of presents to wrap and place under the tree. But I know that we'll have a good time together as a family. We are doing stocking stuffers for each other - homemade jams and seasonings - that sort of thing.

    Charity cheques have been sent off with hopes and prayers that a difference, however small, will be made in someone's life. We have so much to share.

    ReplyDelete
  18. I love playing host to my friends and family, giving of my time, my space, my (limited) skill in the kitchen and my money for the food and drink. I also enjoy working out what to give my loved ones for Christmases and birthdays, and wrapping up things nicely, putting together packages for my Yorkshire family is firmly part of my Advent customs.
    It would be a lie if I said I don't like receiving presents - I really do, especially when they are of the consumable (non-cluttering) kind!

    When it comes to getting things done early, in my case that is pure egoism - I want to know I've done it all so that I have stress-free weeks in December and can fully enjoy the Advent Sundays, without fretting over all the stuff that still needs doing.
    If someone rather leaves things until the last minute, that's entirely up to them; some people seem to need a good portion of self-imposed stress in their lives. Not me.

    I really liked your Nikolaus-Geschichte, Friko. You know you are a great story teller, and this was an excellent read!

    ReplyDelete
  19. Hi Friko - love the poinsettia in its vase - delightful ... I try and give small and useful - not always easy ... but some years I succeed beyond expectation, others not so well. Still the smile, the time to do things for others (even opening a shop door), the compassion for others and the help given ... cheers Hilary

    ReplyDelete
  20. One year I gave away all those silk scarves I had accumulated in my China trips. I gave them to just anybody that I fancied giving something to. It was nice, but otherwise I give whenever I feel like it, not at Christmas though. I am not one for holiday giving, that's for sure. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  21. I agree that the act of giving means more to the giver than the receiver... which I guess is similar to "it's the thought that counts"... although sometimes more thought is put into a gift than other times. We used to give our kids, family, and friends beaucoup gifts at Christmas. Now it's come down to just giving the grand kids... and baking goodies for everyone else. To be honest, getting the family together at Christmas is the best part. Food, laughter, and love outweigh gifts anytime.

    ReplyDelete
  22. I don't shop. The grands will get cash which they like and they can shop themselves after Christmas. My husband and I may get each other some chocolate! :)

    ReplyDelete
  23. The giving and kindnesses all year long are what count in my book. ;)

    ReplyDelete
  24. Little things mean a lot. give to Doctors Without Borders.

    ReplyDelete
  25. I'm in the middle for shopping - I just started yesterday, but I will be done long before Christmas rolls around. But it's for the kids. And nothing over the top. My husband I just exchange a couple of small tokens.

    ReplyDelete
  26. I love small gifts -- homemade, second hand is fine. And books, always books.

    ReplyDelete
  27. I no longer shop but my young grandchildren receive cash in a card to do their shopping. Also small gifts of money or candy to those who help me, mail and paper carriers, trash man who empties my vehicle, young men who now help me outside
    in garden and yard and many kind ones - even at the dental office.

    ReplyDelete
  28. I'm almost done, just small things, mostly consumables because I refuse to give"stuff" unless something specific is needed. My only want is for my cat to heal. Happy Christmas to you!

    ReplyDelete
  29. Have not celebrated Nicholas/putting the boot out as you describe. The degree of gift-giving for Christmas in my households has varied through the years, depending on many circumstances. Once I had children it became mostly all about them and has remained so though they've long been adults -- but then a more prominent focus on their children when they arrived. Now that we're scattered across the country I still prefer giving stocking stuffers, and packages under the tree on the occasions we can be together -- otherwise unless a gift is shipped directly from source, postage monies are better spent included in a cash gift of some form. I used to often pick up small inexpensive items throughout the year, but don't have the need or occasion to shop as much in my older years. Plus, now it's more challenging to be as attuned to what is desired when we no longer share the same household, even city or state, or see one another as frequently. Gifts outside the immediate family (as others have died) have virtually ceased. Any charitable gifts have been pre-determined, but some spontaneous as have few helpers.

    ReplyDelete
  30. oh bloody hell my comment has disappeared, and with a cast on my writing hand it's a bore to repeat it!! suffice to say in resumé that I quite agree with gift-giving being symbolic of love and/or esteem and is a lovely thing to do although were somebody to give me a packet of chewing-gum for Christmas I'd be a bit non-plussed!

    ReplyDelete
  31. I too thought I had left a comment. If this is the second, chalk it up to me or W. I have been sending $$ to favorite charities, including my great-grandson.

    ReplyDelete

Comments are good, I like to know what you think of my posts. I know you'll keep it civil.