DECEMBER - The Presents of Christmas Spirit
Mid December and the walk to Caithness Music Monster's joyful concert across the square required warm boots, scarf and gloves. The wheelie bin is frozen shut. Small puddles are rock hard and leaves resist when I nudge them with my foot. They are stuck. I'm stuck too. I'm one of the people I find so disappointing because they are in a rut of consumerism at Christmas time. The Infant Jesus is at the heart of my Christmas and yet I am troubled because the gifts I have bought do not all cost the same. One person will receive a present which has cost less than a sibling's present. I wonder, did gold cost the same as myrrh? And what about frankincense? How much change would there have been if a wise man had offered a pot of gold for it? I considered long and hard about what to give the folk in my life and have come up with some good solutions. I think. But one hobby is not as expensive as another interest. And yet Person A will be as delighted to receive her gift as Person B will be to receive his. Should I buy chocolate coins and count them out to make up the difference? That won't work for the Dairy Free in our midst. And what about making the confectionery fair? It is so much more expensive to buy dairy-free chocolates ounce for ounce than it is to buy milky chocolates. Aaaargh! Stop right now. I'm getting this way out of proportion.
The fact is that this Christmas I am going to be surrounded by all but one of my wonderful children, their partners, an additional dog AND my fabulous little grandchild who was born on 23rd January this year. Her grandfather and I are already delighting in the fact that her first Christmas will be spent with us. Will she mind how much her presents cost? I doubt it. I'm not sure the Infant Jesus minded that gold, frankincense and myrrh were not equal in value. They were well-planned presents. All three were kingly gifts. Gold was representative of the status of a ruler and, even today, denotes opulence beyond comfort. Magnificence even. "My soul doth magnify the Lord", from Luke's gospel, is the Song of Mary and does not sit easily with the modern idea of woman. Women are not inclined to celebrate humility. Mary was overjoyed that God should have picked her out.
Frankincense comes from Somalia and has long been used as a perfume and in the process of embalming the dead. Mary must have been puzzled by this. And myrrh? Well, myrrh may be taken inwardly, if mixed with wine, and used to deaden pain. Mary had no knowledge of what was in store for her little son so she probably wouldn't have recognised the relevance of this either.
There was significance to all the gifts for Baby Jesus. The magi didn't go on Amazon to find Lightning Deals. They were clever men. They worked out, from their knowledge, that gold, frankincense and myrrh would be forever gifts. What does it take to find a forever gift? Forever.
"The Gift of The Magi", a short story by O. Henry, tells the tale of Della and Jim and the sacrifices they made in order to please each other with their Christmas gifts. You may think it is sentimental - it was written at the beginning of the last century - but it is quite lovely. I read it to my children when they were quite small. I didn't have to explain very much at all. The dollars and cents required translation but, other than that, they completely got it. I loved that they did.
As children, we have all spent our pocket money on presents for our parents and siblings. As young parents we have spent little on each other so that the children have Christmas packages to open. As parents of adults we have struggled to keep up with what is cool to give at Christmastime. My own mother, who lives a very long way from me, has no understanding of buying online, and cannot drive, so relies on my niece to take her shopping and, when everything is wrapped, to post multiple parcels for her. When I wasn't around, Mum used to take the bus and arrive home with bags and piles of boxes which would have done a builder proud. As the years have gone by, the bus journey has become a trial but how that diminishing independence must have complicated Mum's Christmas giving. And yet today we have several brown-paper-wrapped boxes waiting to be opened. Inside will be Mum's carefully chosen wrapping paper and, on each gift, a label committing to the love we all know Granny has for us.
We have dear friends who live not too far from Nuremberg. In 2016, two of our daughters visited them close to Christmas and went to the Christkindlesmarkt there. They came home literally laden with gifts - beautiful craftsman-made Christmas items which they had bought - and also presents from our friends too. Their German Christmas Pyramid has a special place amongst our decorations. It isn't only that it lights up the room when it is working but also because of the fascinating display of light and shadow that is created when the candles are lit. It does all this throughout the Festival of Light.
My children suffer in much the same way I have done over the years. The presents they give simply HAVE to delight the recipient. No quick grab from the supermarket shelf. No buying in bulk and finding best-fits. Everything is chosen with the utmost care for each individual. Nothing will ever outclass the treasured things which, as little ones, they created out of love and fabric or wood. I have them in different spots, many significant, others in safe places, and, throughout the year, I come across them and sit on my heels, as I did when the children were small, and the years roll away. I hold the precious creations and I feel the love. The power of the gift can do that.
I still have my teddy bear. He is 66 years old this Christmas and loved as much as he was when my grandparents gave him to me for my very first Christmas in 1953. He is threadbare and has little mended places but he still sits in my bedroom and is The Patriarch, watching over my world with a sage expression. His name is Teddy. His last name is Bear. Have I ever told you that I am still a little bit in love with Professor Baehr from Louisa M. Alcott's series of books? He is so tender and wise. Just like my teddy bear. My sage.
Back with the sages again. I read The Flight Into Egypt at yesterday's Christingle service. After the magi had visited the Infant Jesus they avoided Herod so that they wouldn't have to tell him where the baby was. He was furious and ordered all baby boys to be eliminated, believing he would thereby rid himself of this tiny threat to his authority. Joseph, Mary and Jesus managed to escape to Egypt and so avoid the slaughter. So many little lives terminated. How cruel people can be when in pursuit of power and wealth.
Did the gifts of the magi travel with the little family? Do you think they had a clear-out when they moved to Nazareth? Perhaps they were stolen? Maybe his parents sold them to set Jesus up as a carpenter in his own right. We don't know. There is so much we don't know. There is so much we don't know about each other so how can we know the detail of the lives in this ancient story? The tale, however, is so powerful that it is able to speak to anyone who will listen. You can fill in the blanks yourself. This wee protagonist didn't grow up to be a bank manager, an agricultural worker or a soldier. He didn't give his life for his country. But he did give his life. And then some.
Because of Baby Jesus and Christmas, I am in knots with balancing my present list. Without Baby Jesus, I doubt if I'd care.
(May I take this chance to wish all readers of my blogs throughout the year, the most blessed of times - at Christmas and during 2020, Susan)