Quick. Think about last year and tell me what you gave to other people and what you received from them. I bet it takes you a moment and most of what was given and received has been so deeply stored that you are unlikely to retrieve it. I also bet that if we could verify it externally, much of what you tell me would have been moved from some other Christmas or event.
We assume in the week before Christmas that presents matter: that we need to find the right gift for the right person (at, we hope, the right price). Yet when we look back at Christmas (instead of forward), what do we remember that is important to us? Are there a handful of gifts from different years and different people that come to mind?
I remember. . . the year I desperately wanted a clock radio. I cannot imagine why but I really, really wanted a clock radio. We were allowed to open one present each on Christmas Eve. I opened something and then my brothers opened a clock radio! I knew with part of my mind that my parents had probably also hidden a clock radio for me under the tree somewhere. I think my mom even offered to let me open a second present right then and there. But I stuck to the rules and waited through the longest night (forget the Solstice: Christmas Eve is the longest night for kids), thoroughly ashamed of myself for being so ferociously jealous and yet consumed by longing. For a clock radio. (Which was waiting under the tree, of course.)
As my mind meanders through more recent Christmases, I remember a few of the gifts I gave, fewer of the gifts I received. It seems to me that the pile of presents wrapped under the tree is more significant than what the boxes actually contain. The pile gives Christmas the right look - the look that corresponds to my memories. The gifts themselves are only the stuff that comes and goes. Although there are a few that catch my attention, there are very few for the number of Christmases I have lived.
Which brings us from Christmas presents to Christmas present. I have trouble recalling Christmas presents, and yet I can summon a rich and wonderful sense of Christmas presence. There are smells and sights and sounds and tastes that tell me: this is Christmas. I am lucky. I am blessed.
How do you know when Christmas is present? What part will you play in Christmas presence for the people you love?