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Christmas – Handle With Care

December 31, 2014

Christmas time is a time of expectation, experience and reflection. That formula is always the same, how it works out in practice one never knows. My Christmas, like everyone else’s was full of promise, my son was coming for Christmas and we would be enjoying time together. Christmas Day over the last few years has settled into a routine of Church in the morning, followed by a long walk and a meal in the evening. This year there was a new addition to the events of the day, a game of tennis. If the sun didn’t shine on us as we walked back from Church, it certainly should have done, because we were as happy as we could be.
At home we were just getting ready to head off for our walk when the phone rang. At this point I need to explain the rules of giving and receiving gifts for those who don’t know them.
Gift-giving is an ancient tradition of sealing a relationship for some purpose. It may be political, it may even verge on bribery, but in the case of giving gifts at Christmas there is one purpose and one only, to express my appreciation of you. OK, it sounds overly sentimental but isn’t that the essence of what we are doing? I am giving a gift which has been chosen by me for you, selected with care because I believe and hope this is something you will treasure. The gift itself is a vehicle for conveying these sentiments and, they, more than the parcel itself, need handling with care.
The expectation continues, the present may sit under the Christmas tree still wrapped. This period is often delicious. We may stare at the gift for some days before Christmas Day and wonder what is hidden inside that paper. Will our dreams be fulfilled? Would it be better not to open the gift at all, then we still have the hope of what might be? But that is not the deal. We must unwrap the paper and see what is inside.
It’s our turn now to respond. How do we feel about what is in our hands, does it match our expectations? Are we disappointed, elated or indifferent? I may hold in my hands a pair of socks which I could have gone out and bought, but these are no ordinary socks. These socks are transformed because you thought enough about me  to choose something which you thought I would like. Part of you is wrapped in this gift. Now that is a big thing to respond to. How we feel about the socks or whatever matters not a jot compared with how we handle this part of the deal.
As a child I was taught always to thank someone for their gift. It was a terrible chore to write letters of thanks to aged aunts (probably in their forties) but it had to be done. ‘Thank you so much for the lovely gift you gave me. It was just what I wanted,’ was written over and over again, until the letters were written. It was irrelevant whether the gift was what I wanted or not.  I learned that there were rules in this game of give and take which had to be followed or people would get hurt. Grumble I might but thanks were given.
You may well have guessed the phone call which I had on Christmas morning. My gift to a friend had been rejected. She was not just indifferent she was angry. She felt tainted by the book, which, as she put it, was all about people with cancer. She hoped I wasn’t suggesting she had cancer. On and on it went until I put the phone down. What was the gift? Daisy Goodwin’s ‘100 Poems to Get You Through.’  I thought it was a great anthology to help you through any bad times, the recipient clearly did not. For this lady there will be other gifts, other Christmases, I hope, but I will not be part of them. Failure to play the game has consequences beyond Christmas.

‘Fragile, Handle With Care,’ should be stamped on every Christmas gift. Gift giving is a risky business. I hope you will enjoy my gift to you but I can’t guarantee that and if you don’t, I hope you are kind to me. If not, we are in dangerous territory. Like the soldiers in No-Mans Land on Christmas Day in 1914, we hope no-one will lob a grenade into the middle of the festivities. When someone does, as happened to me on Christmas Day, it makes for a very reflective Christmas.Screen Shot 2014-12-01 at 09.24.08


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