Making the season simple

For many of us, D Day is on Saturday and we’re screaming through our lives, determined that it will all be perfect, that the picture books will be true.

Gifts beautifully wrapped, white linen tablecloth and napkins (ironed Christmas Eve, once they were found in the bottom of the laundry basket, washed, dried and wrinkled from last Christmas), children well rested, pleasant, polite, undemanding and grateful.

Let’s see… what other pressures do we put on ourselves? That our houses will be clelan. That we mailed all the Christmas cards. That our budgets do a miracle stretch to accommodate all demands.

And Martha Stewart doesn’t make this any easier.

Believe me, I’m not piously sitting above it all, living in peace and harmony with lowered expectations and heightened awareness.

I have had my share of instruction-reading-assembly-activities at 4 am only to have little voices at the bedside at 5 am asking if Santa has come yet.

But I do want to take a minute to repeat to you the mantra I’m saying under my breath to myself… it’s a season, not a day!

So, what do I want to do during this season?

I want to connect with the children (some young, some grown) who are important to me.

I want to give simple things that I’ve made with my hands, things that are consumable and useful. I want to enjoy delivering gifts, taking time for a cup of tea or coffee or a sniff of cider and a visit.

I want to work at Christmas Cheer, buy groceries I’d love to have for myself and give them to the Food Bank.

I want to walk our new dog while she cavorts around in the snow. I want snow. I want simplicity.

And so I’m going to share two gift-giving experiences that I’ve had which had marvellous results. They’re gifts that took courage to give because they were gifts of simplicity, borne in a time of reduced financial means.

They’re gifts I gave with my heart. And their recipients continue to remember them with good grace.

Here goes…

1968. I was an almost-starving journalism student (do you know you could, in 1969, get a week’s supply of liver for 33 cents? You probably still can, and that’s what I lived on in those days).

A group of us all lived near each other in rooms and flats near school and we decided to have a simple Christmas dinner together before heading home for the holidays. I made paper daisies glued to wire stems for one roommate (this was the 60’s, don’t forget); for another I made salad dressings.

But the gift I made for my friend, Bert, remains his most reasured item. I helped myself to his key, let myself into his flat and scrounged through his dresser for every sock I could find.

And then I darned every one, creating several hole-less pairs of socks… almost like new. I wrapped them, up complete with a hand-made card.

Bert was thrilled.

And in the 30 years of gift giving that’s happened siince, he constantly reminds me of this special effort of 1968.

The other gift challenge occurred in the mid-1980s when we were struggling to publish a youth magazine and money was so tight it hardly existed at all. Elected to handle our corporate gift givinbg (to our art director, our print rep etc) I managed baskets of home-made goodies all wrapped in cellophane paper.

However, one man on our list was extremely wealthy. He was the type who ordered $150 bottles of wine with nonchalance. What could we possibly give this man?

I knew he was recently remarried and had a new child of about two. It took tremendous courage, but when I was making our gingerbread house pieces, I made an extra set. And into a box I packed the roof, sides, door, a bag of icing glue, a bag of candies to dec orate with and a piec e of cardobard covered with tin foil. I wrote a card about the value of time and its important to children and I presented him with his first Christmas Chalet.

M?y business partners viewed this gift with trepidation, but honestly, it was the only thing I could think of for the person who could have everything money could buy. He was thrilled. He was humbled. And he looked for his Christmas Chalet (which changed in form) every year.

What have I learned from these experiences? That sometimes my efforts to make it really big are wasted efforts. They exhaust me and they are not memorable for the recipient.

So, simplicity is my route of choice.

There’s a group of salespeople over at the Super Shopper on Brock Street who’ve made a special gift this Christmas.

Jennifer Fortin, Tim Staring, Larry Smith, Heather Allen and Leeanne LaVigne pushed sales of the Super Shopper’s cookbook and then used a portion of sales, plus donations from the Super Shopper staff, to purchase Christmas toys for needy children in the Barrie area. A gift from their hearts, that’s for sure.

Whether you celebrate this season as a Festival of Lights, a religious observance or a commercial challenge, please allow me to take my pen and wish you simplicity… a pleasurable time which puts you on the giving end of care and the receiving end of grace.