WORDS OF WISDOM: Simple Gifts


by Neal Lemery

The holidays are upon us, with the usual seasonal barrage of promotions, sales, Black Friday, and an e-mail inbox overflowing with all of those special deals. Bargains galore! A good part of me recoils and rebels from such marketing and promotion. In reality, I really have quite enough “stuff”. And the real pleasures come from time with friends and some peaceful contemplation in the company of some candlelight.

We recently visited a big box store, needing to replace a laptop that had finally died. The aisles were overflowing with at least several hundred flat screen TVs that had somehow managed to get through the supply chain bottlenecks, so they could now effectively clutter up the aisles at the giant store.

Surely there aren’t that many people who have that item at the top of their holiday wish list. I wondered out loud if Americans really need even more flat screen TVs. Can’t you only watch one at a time, and, by now, there have been enough TVs sold so people can have one in every room? Not that I think that there’s all that much being broadcast or streamed that is all that worthy of my time and attention.

I’m reminded of the old hymn, Simple Gifts, its lyrics clearly calling us back to reflect on the “reason for the season”. The song isn’t in the Christmas song books, but maybe it should be.

“’Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free,
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain’d,
To bow and to bend we will not be asham’d,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come round right.”

This year, I’ve shortened my own “wish list”, realizing after all of our pandemic time of reducing the frenzy of modern life, that the simple things are really the best. Quiet, reflective time, time over coffee with a good friend, a walk in the sunshine, or listening to the murmurs of rain on a walk in a peaceful place.

I’ve sorted through some of the stuff that often clutters up my life. I’m giving a cherished family heirloom to my niece, so she and her kids can retell the story of how the ancestors brought the chair over the Oregon Trail, tying it to the back of the covered wagon, and how it occupied my grandmother’s living room, in a place of honor and storytelling. I’ve retold that story enough now and it’s time for a new generation to have that pleasure. And I think Grandma would be happy with that.

The added bonus with that gift giving is a road trip and family time, as well as the passing on of some memories to people who will appreciate it.

I’ll still write my Christmas cards and send out a newsy, perhaps hokey, letter to friends and family I connect with only a few times a year. I could substitute those sentiments via an e-mail or blog post, but don’t we enjoy holding a letter from a friend while enjoying a cup of tea on a rainy afternoon? And, I like the ritual of addressing the envelopes and sticking on the Santa stamps. I’ll probably stir up some Christmas fudge and a batch of cookies, savoring the memories of doing that with family who have long since departed this world, walking down memory lane with some time-worn recipes.

But I don’t need much more than that. A few walks under the downtown Christmas lights, and a cheery concert or two of holiday classics will gladden my heart, without the need for dealing with the mobs on Black Friday.

It is a simple time, celebrating simple things, simple gifts like friendship, caring for others, and just enjoying the simple pleasures of the holidays.

Neal’s books are available on Amazon – and make a great simple gift.

Neal Lemery – community volunteer, author and blogger neallemery.com
Books: NEW book – Building Community: Rural Voices for Hope and Change; Finding My Muse on Main Street, Homegrown Tomatoes, and Mentoring Boys to Men