The holiday season is upon us, robust with the joys and frustrations, excitement and irritation that the season offers. And with the arrival of the holidays comes the giving of gifts! The tangible kind: gaily wrapped packages, stockings or shoes stuffed with treats, boxes full of homemade cookies and candy. The intangible: the innocent joy we see in children’s faces as they view a beautiful menorah or decorated tree, the excitement of watching someone open the gift you’ve chosen for him or her, the warmth exchanged during holiday greetings.
To be honest, I have a love/hate relationship with this time of year. It gets really cold in New England, and I’m not fond of that temperature (cold). (A New England-er born and bred, I blame my hatred of cold weather on a holiday break spent in Brazil during college; it spoiled me forever, I’m convinced.) I love giving gifts, but I hate shopping for them. I love wrapping gifts, but I hate the waste. I love celebrating with friends and family, but I hate cleaning my house first. Have you ever read Skipping Christmas, by John Grisham? A couple whose only child is out of the country for a year decide to forgo the season and all it’s trappings, and instead go on a cruise. It’s a bit of a farce, really, and I can’t say I loved the tale, but I’ve definitely been tempted to skip the holiday season once or twice.
But then, I remember. I get out of the gift-giving season what I put into it. If I let the gifts overwhelm, if I worry about whether I’ve spent too much or too little or if the color and size are right or if I’ve forgotten someone hates coffee and gave them a Starbucks gift card or if I’ve managed to leave a little something for the mailman (ours really is a man) and gosh, did I get a gift receipt for Aunt Lucy (who never likes her gifts), well then, I’m going to be miserable.
If, however, I remember to appreciate all the gifts of the holiday, like how lovely the house smells when there’s a fresh tree inside, the excitement our child has about the parties and food and decorations (oh, my!), and the anticipation of delivering donations to a local charity, the steady stream of fun, personal mail–well, then I remember that I love the gift-giving season. After all, while there are no returns or exchanges on these gifts, luckily, they are the very best kind to receive.
Choosing a book for myself can be just as challenging as any holiday gift shopping. After all, what more discerning gift-recipient will I buy for than me? And it’s not just the choosing, it’s the actual reading that is often fraught with anxiety for me. I have a huge TO BE READ pile next to my bed. All are by authors I’ve had the good fortune to meet, and some I’ve come to consider friends. But, (lowers voice to whisper), what if I don’t like them? It’s as though I think there’s a direct connection between the thought in my head and the author, and they’ll know, they’ll just know that I didn’t like their work. (Yes, I worry about these things.)
Following my rules on holiday gift-giving however, I remember that I get out of the reading experience what I put into it, and I have to let go of the worries. Maybe I won’t like it, but maybe I’ll find a new favorite author. Did I try a new genre or author? Good for me! Perhaps I chose something simply to support a fellow writer, and shared the author’s joy that sales numbers went up (even if only by one). And, there’s the fact that the TO BE READ pile has shrunk by one (and I can shop for a new book!). If all else fails, maybe I have a gift for Aunt Lucy, signed by the author.
No returns or exchanges, of course.