I posted this last year, but as Advent begins, I am reminded what a special year this was and want to share it again. I 'stole' the idea from a co-worker, so it's not original. But we still have terrific memories of the year without 'real' gifts.
A few years ago, during the financial crisis, most in our family were unable to spend much for gifts. We agreed to give the kids smaller presents, but the adults were in a quandary.
Larry grew up with a large extended family. All the kids got something small, but lots of gifts. Auntie Wanda, who worked in a bank, gave each child a crisp, new two-dollar bill. Uncle Francis brought them each a shiny silver dollar. (Kim still has some of hers.) Auntie Margie loved finding loud and crazy socks. She’d shop all year for them. (And Kim insisted on wearing them—with everything.)
Since Larry’s dad was one of six, and most were married with kids, we often had forty or more on Christmas Eve. Dad was the youngest and was sixteen years younger than his oldest sister. We loved having kids and adults of all ages, and we welcomed a new family member every few years.
The adults drew names for gifts with a $20 limit. This meant each couple only had to buy two adult gifts. Names were drawn on Thanksgiving, but we weren’t particularly strict about sticking with the names as drawn. Much horse trading occurred between that date and Christmas Eve.
Everyone knew Cousin Gerry loved getting Larry’s brother, Casey. Both were pranksters, and Gerry loved giving Casey off-the-wall gifts.
One year, she gave him a large box. When he opened it, the only thing inside was a clue to the next gift. She routed him all over the house until he finally located the small box in the center of her cookie plate. It held a $20 bill. Another year, he received a coffee can filled with change embedded in the most awful mixture of white glue, peanut butter, chocolate syrup… Well, you can imagine. He had to run the whole thing under very hot water before he was able to extract his $20 in change.
I always loved buying gifts for Auntie Margie. She had very definite tastes, and most of the rest of them found her challenging. What a coup when I was able to please her, and I did so often.
For many years, we hosted the entire family, but as the older generation died out, and the ‘kids’ grew up and moved away, the group grew smaller until we were left with only our immediate families.
As Christmas of 2009 approached, some of us were faced with limited resources. My sister-in-love, Lucy, had just started a new job. Casey’s company had folded, as had mine. Kim's company had moved her to Texas and was no longer working two jobs. Our niece, Carrie, and her husband were leaving right after the first of the year to move to Utah. In short, times were financially challenging, and money was tight.
A coworker, faced with the same situation in her family, had just gone back to work after nine months of unemployment. Her family decided on a virtual Christmas.
The rules were simple:
- Decide what you would give each family member if money were no object and without any restrictions.
- Write a note to each person, along with pictures or other enhancements (web pages, etc.) to let them know what you’d give them and why.
- Put your virtual gift in an envelope, and put it on the tree on Christmas Eve.
Everyone took the challenge seriously. And the gifts we received that year far surpassed any material gifts we might have gotten.
I have kept my virtual gifts locked carefully away along with the birth certificates, marriage certificate, and all the other valuable papers. They are that precious.
Kim ‘gave’ Larry a trip to outer space, complete with photos and a web page. I ‘received’ a house in Hawaii.
My brother, who is a classic car fanatic, ‘gave’ Larry a woody and me a ’57 Thunderbird—my favorite car of all time.
Carrie and Loren had just bought a new house in Utah, so they brought the map of their neighborhood. Their ‘gift’ was a house of our choice on the same block so we could live near them.
Larry’s gift was a trip to Hawaii for the whole family. His gift to me was to retire and travel to all the places on my bucket list: Machu Picchu, England, Scotland (again), New Zealand (again), Italy (again), and Hawaii (always). Oh, and he’d go along.
My gifts were all intangibles. To Kim, I ‘gave’ happiness. To my brother, confidence, and so forth. Larry’s gift reads as follows:
To Larry I would give
In God and your faith
In your work and your play
In your family and home
In love and marriage
You are the greatest blessing in my life.
If I could do it all over again,
I would. You taught me how to laugh
And play and love (the best parts).
I love you.
We haven’t done it again, but someday, perhaps, we will. I’d recommend it to anyone, whether or not finances are an issue.
My virtual gift for you? A joyous and blessed holiday season and a prosperous New Year. May all your fondest dreams come true.