Opening gifts old and new

Harry Drabik

There is a base truth in the old saying that Christmas (and/or similar celebrations) is for kids. Is this because the outward enthusiasm of children shows they are more ready to enjoy a festive time than jaded adults? Or is a child naturally greedy to get things and garnering attention? We can find evidence in and from many schools of thought, but at the least, without judgment, say the typical child is capable of considerable savvy regarding gifts and giving. They are perfectly aware some gifts count for more than others. The young in successful societies don’t yearn for bare necessities. “Santa may I please have new socks?” We could claim the children of today are nasty avaricious little beasts, but when a person is born into and grows up within a successful culture and society they cannot escape becoming highly aware of success in its material form. Any ten year old becomes able to rank the worth-merit of an item of apparel or electronic gadget with the to the penny precision of a Wall Street analyst. Can’t blame anyone for learning what a culture teaches. Many rail about materialism; that is until they need something. A successful material culture has critical care helicopters sitting ready. It’s unlikely a person will bemoan that when the chopper that whisks a family member to urgent care is only the beginning of a process piled steep with material advantage in forms of surgery and intensive care.

It’s fashionable and ego soothing to say one opposes materialism and all its ills. These ills are less easily seen when individuals struggle for food and shelter. Not much poetry gets written in the dark without paper. Reading is not a strong possibility if the light needed to do so comes from a campfire outdoors or a guttering tallow flame. Right now I’m neck deep in the “evils” of materialism, and really, it’s not so bad. Materialism gives a means to pursue things above and beyond survival. Much of that pursuit may be venal or petty, but would you rather cope with a root cellar able to hold a winter’s worth of root crops under your house or go to a well-lit market with a dandy frozen foods section?

There’s an underlying irony as well. Looking at an exchange of gifts a personality may see what they bring to the table. Woe and gloom over nasty materialism sounds like the talk of a penurious accountant able to see only the things and not their meaning or foundation. Materialism grows by exchange and sharing. It is highly social in how it operates. An orange does not find its way into a store in your neighborhood by itself. Successful grower meets successful handler who meets the successful retailer before reaching the able buyer. You don’t put orange juice to a hundred million tables every morning without being hugely materialistic. You don’t stock a hundred thousand hospitals with drugs and equipment through barter of organically grown turnips. Here on the further limb of the North Shore we have our share of those who would opt out of the system. I can’t fault their sincere effort. But even the most dedicated opter outer is part of the system. There’s no avoiding it. In any large system contact with a single part indirectly touches all parts.

Might not be so bad to be less philosophical and worrisome about gifts and bounce on back to being more kid like and enjoy it. Is it worth fretting when gifts are given in a spirit of friendship and generosity and mutual regard? Got to remember, some people put considerable thought and effort into their gifting. I credit them. It is also a basic part of most any social contract to give according to need or as “inspired.” Inspiration has been my devil. How do I know what others might want? When I was young dad got Old Spice and mom loved anything I gave her. It was easy, but I also recall a holiday when I felt something was very wrong because all my gifts were practical items of school wear in the days when there were dress codes. It was not thought appropriate to attend school (except for Sadie Hawkins Day) in costume other than that of a student. Not sure where the notion that dressing like a rock star or a slob would not conflict with an academic goal, but I suspect we know where the roots of such things lay. In simple terms, where anything is allowed to go there will not be much left.

Well obviously I don’t understand these things. And furthermore lacking both imagination and inspiration I approach the gift season with steely determination to get out there, kill it, put it in a box, and get it to whomever. Essentially and easier on me, I give one gift. It comes from Texas, Corsicana to be precise. I give one of the lowliest and oft despised gifts. I give fruit cake from the Collin Street Bakery. It’s somewhat soothing to know I’m treating all who get a Collin Street Fruit Cake with the same evenhanded fairness free of favoritism or subtle intent. It’s a fruit cake. Whether the recipient eats it or throws it at an in-law is not my concern. I did my part being equal in giving the same highly regarded baked good. And frankly it’s a blessing to have something so wonderfully simple to answer the gift dilemma. I’ve never been to Texas. In fact the idea of it scares me, but living in a materialistic society I don’t have to trek there to get a fruit cake. They bake. UPS delivers. Love the simplicity.

I got a notable gift this year in a book of photos taken my a high school and university friend and his wife covering scattered decades of visits. Early photos show us looking like two pencils, later not as much. His thought, a good one, was to share images of things from a perspective not my own. That, my friends, was a very good thought and an even better gift.