Reader Contribution by Lois Hoffman
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Just like most kids, when I was young, I couldn’t wait for Christmas and all the gifts. I knew that on Christmas morning there would be many under the tree from “Santa” and then we would head to my grandparents and there would be more and there was always the exchange at school.

Then, like most kids, I grew up and figured out that the real gifts were the ones that couldn’t be wrapped in pretty paper. The gift of time with loved ones became far more special. I was reminded of that fact even more profoundly this year as I struggled with my shopping list. It’s not about the money, but rather it’s about the frivolousness of it all. Kids get so much stuff that they rip open one package and throw it aside to move on to the next one without even seeing what they get. Enough.

There had to be a better way of giving–truly giving gifts from the heart. Keeping with the spirit of the season, I was reminded three times that the best gifts do not come with ribbons and bows.

The first lesson was when I started my Christmas cards this year. I love to get cards, and I really do like to send them. There is nothing like curling up with a mug of hot cocoa in front of the fire and writing them out. It just always seems like there are so many and then people move and you need to get new addresses. The whole idea of the cards is to reach out to those that are far away and those that you don’t see. Somehow, this seems backwards to me. If we haven’t seen someone in a year, why do we reach out to them year after year only on Christmas?

I decided to go through my Rolodex and that was the first shocker. A couple of years ago, there were 135 people on my list. Given, each year there are a few names that come off, but this year I was down to 86. Wow, that is an eye opener. How could so many people just not be part of my life anymore?

There were three people that, for one reason or another, I just had not had any contact with in years. I set those cards out and vowed to call each one that day. One was a former painting instructor from whom I had taken painting lessons for nearly four years. I had no idea whether he was still painting or not.

As it turns out, he was not only still painting, but had recently finished one and made it into a limited-edition print that was going to be perfect for someone on my list. Not only did we re-connect, but we talked about some future projects. How do we just let some people slip out of our lives? Thus, the second lesson was to vow to stay connected to people who are important to us. It involves a little extra effort, but then, anything worthwhile does.

The third lesson was bittersweet. In this joyous and happy time of year, it is so easy to forget that it is not always that way for everyone. Some people are really struggling, whether it be financially or physically. Four families who are dear to me have serious issues that they are wrestling with this holiday season. One is dealing with loss and the other three are dealing with health conditions.

It is hard to be happy during this joyous season when you know that others are denied that gift. I also know from past experience that even small acts of kindness are so appreciated and can bring immeasurable joy to someone. So, I decided that, instead of joining the shopping spree and buying a bunch of gifts that find their way to the wayside once the holidays are past, I would do something to bring joy to others in need, a joy that would, hopefully, last.

I found that, whether it was a plate of cookies, inviting them over for a meal or simply just a visit with a gift of time, it meant so much to them. Funny though, I also received the best gift of knowing that I gave from the heart and of myself.

Every year I say that I want to keep the Christmas spirit all through the year, but we all know how that goes. This year I am not going to reach so high, but rather just try to stay in touch with those that really mean so much to me. Every time I catch myself saying that I am too busy to share a soft drink with a friend or to make a phone call or to take time out for a visit with someone in my life, I hope I am reminded of this Christmas. I don’t want to miss the best gift of all, the one that lasts way past the Christmas season.

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