We all know how it goes. Before the holidays, we scramble around to buy gifts for those we love. Some of us even go into debt to buy expensive presents that, too often, are forgotten or discarded in a year or two. Instead, or in addition, we could do something that could be more meaningful.
Think about this: Of all the gifts you’ve ever received, which ones meant the most? Were they the ones that cost the most money or the ones that cost little or nothing except the time and love that went into them?
I really can’t remember any material gifts I received from my parents, although I know there were many. But one of the things I do remember, cherish and will always keep is a letter my father sent to me. It was during my first year of college after I hadn’t come home for more than a month. He wasn’t a man who easily showed his emotions, but he let them slip when he wrote, “I know you no longer need us, and that’s a good thing, but please don’t forget we still need you.”
I also kept my mother’s scrapbook that holds poems she wrote or loved as a young girl, photos of people she knew, and yes, love letters to her from my father. I value the lessons I learned from my parents – everyone is worthy of compassion; laughter and a sense of humor will get us through a lot of life’s challenges; and that family and friends stick together. I cherish family photos, pictures my children drew with crayons, Christmas tree ornaments they made from construction paper and the Christmas letters they sent to me.
For several years, every Christmas Eve, we wrote letters to one another. We told each other what they meant to us, what we appreciated about them, and how grateful we were to have them in our lives. I have a feeling that all of us have kept those letters while the material gifts are gone and forgotten.
Personal letters are wonderful, but there are a lot of other things we can do that are just as memorable and precious. Mike Spohr, in a Nov. 2, 2014, Buzzfeed article, offers some examples:
“A bound book of family recipes”: Remember Aunt Mary’s Christmas cookies, or grandma’s famous apple pie? How about that meatloaf recipe you made that everyone loved? You can gift those recipes to your children and grandchildren so they, too, can share them with others.
“A first experience”: Buy tickets or make plans to enjoy a new experience with a family member or friend. It could be a play, a museum, concert or a special team’s game. Go camping or traveling somewhere new. Find a local park you’ve never visited and explore it together.
“A family history scrapbook”: Your children or other relatives will appreciate and treasure a scrapbook made from family memories, letters and photos of ceremonies.
“A tree you plant together”: This is a living, growing testimony to something you did together that they’ll never forget.
Think of something you wish you had received from your parents, grandparents or other relatives. How about a diary to share with your children and grandchildren? All those who come after you will appreciate hearing, in your own words, your life’s story. That can include a description of an ordinary day when you were young; what games you played or work you did; your challenges, experiences and feelings; historic things that happened in your lifetime, your hopes for the future and anything else you want them to know.
Share your gifts, talents and compassion by volunteering with a friend or loved one at a school, nursing home, food pantry or local non-profit. Schedule time to do an art or craft project together, to create or make something that will last and become a warm memory. Sign up together to attend a class in a subject that interests you both. Offer to teach someone a skill you’ve learned. Volunteer to work on a home project with a family member or friend.
And, finally, don’t forget to give to yourself. Take a leisurely, soothing bath, or a nap in the middle of the day. Go walk in the woods or read a book you’ve wanted to start. Make plans to meet with good friends or colleagues and spend time laughing and remembering the old days. Dance and sing to your favorite music all by yourself. Call an old friend. Plan an adventure or do something you’ve always wanted to do, but always put off.
As the lyrics to an old Dean Martin song said, “Memories are made of this.” Here’s to making great ones.