The weekend after Thanksgiving, my parents always had me make a list of the people to whom I wanted to give Christmas presents, which then would magically appear under the tree with my name scribbled proudly in the "from" section of the gift tags. (My input into the actual gifts was saved for a later age after I cried for a full day because I couldn't give everyone on my list clouds and pickles — my two favorite things at the time.)
But when I got my first part-time job, my parents tried to instill in me some sense of responsibility by having me pay for my own feminine- hygiene products and fancy shampoos, and Christmas gifts for other people. Suddenly, the family bottle of Prell didn't seem so déclassé, and it was a sad year for those folks who were used to getting gifts from "me" that came from my parents' considerable holiday budget, I can tell you that.
Then one year, I came into what was a fair amount of cash for someone my age, and come Christmas, I gift-shopped with total disregard for the cost. That Christmas Eve, too excited to wait until morning, I headed out for a surprise visit to my then-boyfriend — only to find him canoodling under the mistletoe with someone else. I hightailed it back home, tossing curse words and brightly wrapped boxes out the car window along the way. When I stopped for gas, all that was left was a gold Claddagh ring and an obscenely overpriced leather jacket — both of which I unceremoniously hoisted into the confused gas station attendant's arms. This is going to sound like a bad Kenny Rogers Christmas song circa 1982, but I still remember the exact words he said after I convinced him that I wouldn't regret giving away those things to a stranger: "You got no idea what this means to me. Now there'll be something under the tree."
I didn't know his story, didn't ask what he meant, who he would be giving a man's ring and coat to, or if he just meant for himself. But I do know that even as my friends and family opened their fabulous gifts from me on Christmas morning, that guy was all I could think about.
I changed that day, almost imperceptibly perhaps. But the seeds that my parents had planted about the nature of giving took root. It would take a while for me to really get why they would only allow me to focus on what I wanted to give for Christmas rather than what I hoped to get, and why they would send me to school each year on my birthday with a beribboned roll of pennies for each child in my class.
I am so profoundly grateful for those lessons. Giving and sharing — of my time, talents and treasure — have brought me so much boundless joy over the years and given me a deep appreciation for what I do receive. One of my constant wishes for the people I love is that they grasp the great blessing that is giving and shift their perceptions about the holidays and life in general.
You folks and your colleagues are a conduit for that shift among your donors. That's part of why you have my continued respect and admiration. Thank you for what you do. It matters. In so many ways. From the FS family to yours ... Merry Christmas, Blessed Solstice and Happy Holidays.