“Mary wrapped the first Christmas present”: that’s the catchy phrase strategically positioned in front of our local church on the village busiest road. Most of us –trapped in the frenzy of shopping, cooking, clearing snow, and more shopping, need to be reminded of that simple fact: Mary lovingly enveloped her baby in plain cloth and offered Him to the world. Quietly.
Two thousand years later gift wrapping is my favorite activity of the season. Selecting the right paper and matching bow, writing a fun message on the label, seeing the piles of Amazon.com boxes get smaller as the colorful display under the tree gets bigger: it all makes me feel very ‘FulfilledandHappy’ (FaHm). When my children were small I would sneak downstairs during nap time and quickly hide dinosaurs and Barbie dolls under layers of green or red paper. I remember the Star Wars Lego and ‘Charmed’ DVD phase. Today my two teens prefer hi-tech gadgets and clothing items. Every year is different: new wishes, new looks. But giving is still ‘in’.
Last weekend, with friends visiting from Belgium, my sister, my husband and I went on a candlelight tour of Christmas past at Washington Irving’s cottage in the Hudson valley. Each room was decorated in the 1840s fashion, understated and charming. We were read Irving’s words: “Everything conspired to produce kind and happy feelings in this stronghold of old-fashioned hospitality.” (Bracebridge Hall) As I admired the unadorned greenery on the mantels I could see servants rushing up and down the stairs and hear children cry out with delight as they reached for the prized orange in their stocking. Christmas was about family and happiness. It still is.
No matter how tangled -or lost- you get in the pre-holiday rush there will be a sign on your hurried path looking to bring you back to the true meaning of the season. Whether it is a nativity scene in a church front yard or strings of glittery ribbon, I urge you to pay attention. The universe conspires to awaken in all of us feelings of joy and well-being. When we allow ourselves to slow down enough to experience and savor them we recapture the essence of Christmas forever: fellowship and mirth. We sprinkle it on cookies, play with it in the snow, or set it atop the tree. On Christmas morning we offer it to those around us as, together, we merrily unwrap the most precious present of all: the gift of infinite love. Bestowed upon us long ago. Lavishly.