Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Christmas Gifts

There was always a little bit of a bite when I stepped outside to begin the walk home from campus, but today it was more of a surprise then usual. Guess this is what they meant when they talked about Illinois winters, "you'll need to wear two coats" a friend told me. True to form, my phone came to life - buzzing in my pocket, reminding me that someone had called while I studied deep in my office in the performing arts center. Today my sister in law Rachel left today's message.

"So, now that's Thanksgiving is over, I'm starting to think about Christmas, and I just wanted to see what kinds of things you needed, so we can get it for you."

It's been years since anyone in my family has tried to surprise me. For the past few years, my mom just deposits money into my account and lets be buy my own presents, sometimes even wrap them. It all stems from the last time they surprised me:

I wanted a bird.

Well, really I wanted a cello.

But I wanted a bird, mostly because my parents said they couldn't afford a cello.

I was certain I was going to get a bird. I even thought I heard it chirping in the basement.

The whole family was excited to see my face when I came running down the stairs and saw what was now my cello lying under the Christmas tree.

The only thing I saw was that there wasn't a bird there, and I cried.

As I sat on the stairs, it never occurred to me that my parents had probably searched far and wide to try and find a cello, and how they had probably cut into their own Christmas present budgets a little bit to be able to afford it. It didn't occur to me that they were so excited to have gotten something for me that was really going to surprise me, or how hurt they would be if they knew I wasn't happy with it.

I just knew that it wasn't a bird.

I still have that cello, and I have used it for years. Every time I pull it out, I am reminded of the work that my parents went through to get it for me, and it becomes a little more important, a little more valuable than just a student cello. It becomes a symbol of my mother and father's love.

The cold chill cut through my wool coat as I crossed the street into my neighborhood. I pulled my scarf around me a little bit tighter to keep the wind out. It was probably the oddest scarf that I own: red, blue, and white yarn hand knitted to an disproportionately long length. A middle aged women in Italy knit it for me. She made one for me and each of my five friends - missionaries for the church that she chose to join while were there. It was her Christmas present to us. She made mine long because she knew I needed a long scarf to be able to put it around my neck the way I liked without choking myself. I can't imagine the number of hours that it must have taken her to knit all of those scarves for us. But every time I wrap that scarf around my neck, I think of her and the wonderful time spent together that Christmas season.

In fact, many of my favorite gifts tie back to the circumstances in which they were given: The roadside emergency kit from my sister and brother in law that sits safely in the trunk of my car, the elmo doll that my niece grabbed from her toy pile and asked her mom to wrap it for me on Christmas eve, the book of favorite family recipes that my mom made for us, when she couldn't afford much else.

Its funny how as we grow older, the what in Christmas giving matters less and less, while the who matters more and more. It is less about what my family and friends give me, and more that they gave me something that reminds me of them, and lasts long after the Christmas season is gone.