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The Gift of Giving

Written by Leslie Criss

“Christmas is not as much about opening our presents as opening our hearts.” ­— Janice Maeditere

Nearly 45 years ago on a Friday in early December, I drove from the Gulf Coast to Clinton to spend a weekend with my sister. Beth was in college at my alma mater, Mississippi College. I was teaching English to junior high kids in Biloxi.

I had no idea what might be on my sister’s agenda for our weekend entertainment. I was just happy to spend time around folks a little closer to my age. Maybe I’d suggest a movie and a meal.

I would soon learn, however, other plans were already in place.

Beth’s friend Risa was throwing a Christmas party Saturday night, and we were invited.

It was late Saturday afternoon when we learned the details of the evening before us. Risa entered my sister’s dorm room burdened with sacks of every size. After setting them down around her feet, she faced her audience — a captive crowd of about 10.

“Pair up,” she said in a no-nonsense tone that reminded me of my own when addressing my students. “Pick a gift out of these sacks and wrap it.”

As we followed her directions, noisily cutting paper and pulling tape, Risa informed us she was collectively giving us the gift of giving.

She had obtained from a community organization in Clinton the name of a family whose father had been unable to work for some time. A family who, except for a small tree, would not have much of a Christmas. Materially speaking, anyway.

So, we party-goers piled into our warm cars and trailed the guiding tail lights of Risa’s car into the black darkness of a cold December night. We reached our destination and upon entering the small home, we were welcomed by a gracious group of folks.

For the next few hours, we shared songs, sweets and stories until we were all warmed by the fellowship with the strangers.

That long-ago Christmas season has continued to shape my perspective. It’s when I came to believe it truly is more blessed to give than to receive.

We don’t have to all take gifts to strangers, but we can find ways of giving of ourselves, always, but especially during this season. Even if it’s just to offer a kind word to a disgruntled cashier or shout “Merry Christmas,” (and really mean it) to a tired shopper or to reach out and hug a friend tightly ... just because.

After all, if we think of another night more than 2,000 years ago, perhaps we will all remember how someone offered a supreme example of the gift of giving.

And isn’t that what Christmas is really all about?


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