Christmas morning, 1987. A cold one, I recall. Condensation on the windows, and a hint of your breath in the air. Dark and dreary the morning might have been – indeed, it was probably still the middle of the night – but that didn’t matter. Santa had arrived!
As my father laid the fire and cleaned the bould Mr Claus’ footprints from the hearth, I vividly remember tearing open the presents. The yields were modest. A yellow-covered hardback storybook; tales from which I still recall over three decades later. A black-haired, floral-bedecked doll, immediately named Caroline, who would remain a loyal companion for years, despite the subsequent subjecting of her lustrous curls to some unfortunate butcherings behind my mother’s back. And a couple of coloured plastic necklaces. That was all. But it was enough.
As a small child, I remember my parents slogging late into the winter nights doing extra work from home to make ends meet. It sounds trite; but those small gifts meant a lot because I somehow understood, even at the age of seven, that they didn’t come easy.
Fast forward three decades, to me on a day off, tackling the spare room in advance of the Christmas visits. The spare room is the dumping ground for Stuff. Lots and lots of Stuff. Trying to be ruthless, I started going through the place drawer by drawer, getting rid of anything I hadn’t used in the last year. It left me wondering – how can one person accumulate so much? The charity shop is now three black bags of clothes better off and the recycling bin is bursting at the seams. Still though, stuff will go to landfill which these days comes with a healthy dose of guilt. A reminder to be better? Or to find more fun stuff to do on days off – I don’t know.
With Christmas coming down the tracks, it made me think about how we can buy less stuff for the sake of it – and buy better presents. I am the world’s worst present-buyer – unless of course, it’s for me – a situation complicated by having very un-demanding loved ones, who refuse to indicate what type of gifts might actually be useful. You’d think they’d have learned after years of crap presents, but some people are a bit slow on the pick-up. While buying less is bad news for retailers, maybe we can also help local businesses in other ways, as well as making better Christmas memories for our loved ones. And with a bit of thought, Christmas presents can go the extra mile and brighten up the rest of the year too.
A voucher for a meal, or a trip to the hairdresser, or – heaven of heavens! – a good massage is the kind of treat that will brighten up those days in early February when it feels like there is no joy in the world. A newspaper subscription for someone living abroad (you won’t need to look far to find one)! A day trip to visit the zoo or aquarium, or going to a show gives the gift of memories. With my tourism hat on, the gift of a walking tour of their town for someone with a heritage interest, or for the more adventurous, a chance to learn a new skill or try a new activity? A chance to support a local business, and challenge yourself while you’re at it. If you’re buying those as a gift, sign yourself up too and make a day of it together. Time spend with loved ones is never regretted.
The Christmas of 1987 didn’t swell the toy box, but yet, it left a legacy. Although the necklaces bit the dust a long time ago, Caroline and her lovely curls are safely wrapped up in a box in the attic for someone else to maybe love in years to come; a reminder of what’s important. And with that first “big” book, my parents bestowed a bigger gift; a lifelong love of reading and writing, which they nurtured throughout my childhood.
Everyone loves a bit of gift wrap under the tree; but maybe Santa doesn’t need to break the bank this year. Forget about the Stuff – the most valuable gift you can give anyone is your time.
This first appeared in The Mayo News on Tuesday, December 3, 2019.