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Christmas Lists – or Not

Posted on 05 December 2009 by Barbara Beckwith (1)

“Here’s my list,” my husband says, thrusting a computer printout at me. “Where’s yours?”
“No lists,” I say firmly.

“But these are the books and records I want,” he insists.
“Then buy them your self,” I retort. “I want to surprise you.”

Each year at holiday gift-buying time, my husband and I debate list-swapping, and I win. Lists make me feel like I’m grocery shopping — get me some toothpaste, will you, dear? I let my husband and sons swap lists, and watch them check off each item bought, highlighting those as yet unpurchased. To me, the fun of giving gifts lies in intuiting what the other person might like.

Each year, I set my jaw and refuse to THINK about shopping until December first, resisting stores attempts to start the Christmas shopping season two weeks before Thanksgiving. Then, I panic, picturing crows of shoppers and serpentine UPS lines — will my packages reach family members in Florida, Pennsylvania and Oregon in time?

Then there’s the decision to make: do I give my relative something I know they can use — more golf balls for my golf-loving father, or do I give something of myself? The latter can backfire: I sent my sister my favorite novels for years until she finally told me she reads only non-fiction and they’d stayed unread.

That’s the trouble with far-flung family. You lose track of the whole. Younger sister: art teacher, mother of two, too buys to read, house full of stuff, amateur photographer. Do I buy her film, paint brushes, an advice book on parenting on clearing your house of junk? No, my sister is more than categories. And what she and I have between us can’t be reduced to commercial exchange. It’s sitting over coffee after the kids have gone to bed. It’s swapping gossip until we break through to new perspectives. It’s laughing loud and late into the night.

So I skip the mall and instead scour crafts fairs, where people at least have sewed the pillows they’re selling, baked the cakes in their own ovens, grown the herbs in their gardens. But I find that even that won’t do. I don’t want to piece of someone else’s family. I want my OWN family together again.

So I create something to bring my family close. One year, I made a family cookbook, which got me calling each family member to get their recipes. Another year I asked each relative to write down what they do on an ordinary day, and made a booklet, called Our Ordinary Days, that brought us close to each other’s daily, if far-flung, lives. A third time I gathered funny things we all said as kids and made a “Smart & Silly Book” drawn covering four generations. The next year I made a music tape, with my parents’ harmonizing caught on 1940s on vinyl, to piano, flute and recorder pieces, both amateur and professional, to the melodic babble of our newest family member. And one year I sent each family member cloth and directions for making a quilt square , then sewed them into a family-made quilt.

We may have scattered across the country and settled down in a half-dozen states. But at holiday time, I keep finding ways to sew the patchwork of us back together into a seamless whole.


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  1. cheap mbt shoes sale Christmas Lists – or Not | Barbara Beckwith