And the Grinch, with his grinch feet ice-cold in the snow,
Stood puzzling and puzzling. "How could it be so?
It came without ribbons! It came without tags!
It came without packages, boxes, or bags!"
He puzzled and puzzed till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before.
Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store.
Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more!
The Grinch That
One of the few good things about flying 16 hours across the Pacific Ocean is that it gives one ample time to watch a few movies between reading and playing computer games.
Such was the case for me earlier this month as I ventured off to visit some close friends in Australia.
Modern planes have a personal entertainment center allowing passengers to select their own movies, so I had the opportunity to re-watch a few of my old favorites such as Casablanca, Philadelphia Story, and Jeremiah Johnson.
While watching the latter, there was a certain scene that caught my attention.
Jeremiah Johnson (as played by Robert Redford) was a mountain man fur trapper somewhere in the Rockies in the early 1800’s.
In the scene, Jeremiah and another trapper, Del, were approached by a small group of Native Americans who brought Jeremiah and Del back to their encampment.
While meeting with the tribal chief and the other elders, Jeremiah decides, without knowing the tribe’s customs, to give the chief a present of a horse.
This etiquette faux pas put the two trapper’s lives in danger, as they were honored guests of the chief and giving of gifts was reserved solely for the hosts to their guests.
Doing otherwise was seen as an insult to the host... unless, of course, the hosts could give even a better gift to their guests.
All is well in the end as the chief ends up giving Jeremiah his daughter’s hand in marriage as a gift to his guests.
The entire scene only lasted for about 2 minutes but it had a profound impact on me in terms of giving and receiving gifts.
Christmas is only a few days away, which for the great majority of Americans, it means there are only a few more days to shop for that perfect gift for loved ones, friends, colleagues, and assorted acquaintances.
This year it is estimated that Americans will spend approximately $650B on gift-giving (not including meals, decorations, and travel).
So where did this idea of gift giving on Christmas actually come from?
Some might point to the story of the Magi bringing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the baby Jesus in Bethlehem as the source of the tradition of gift giving... but historically... this is simply not the case.
In fact, many biblical scholars will be quick to tell you that there is little evidence that Jesus was actually born in December, and in fact, Christmas in December didn’t really begin until more than 300 years after the time of Jesus.
What was celebrated in December was the winter solstice along with the Roman celebration honoring the God Saturn. The solstice signified the re-birth of the sun as it would grow brighter each passing day until the summer.
During this celebration, wealthy citizens of Rome threw elaborate parties while lavishing gifts to their guests. The higher the citizen’s stature, the more lavish the gifts.
In the 4th century, Christianity was legalized by the Roman emperor Constantine the Great and in a political way as to appease the Romans, Pope Julius I, in 350 AD, decreed that the birth of Jesus would henceforth be celebrated on December 25th (as a way for Christians to participate with the Romans celebrating the solstice).
As the Roman Empire faded and eventually crumbled, so did the solstice celebrations, along with the tradition of gift giving.
It wasn’t until the early 19th century did Christmas gifts make a comeback.
In 1820, the first advertisements of Christmas presents began to appear in American newspapers.
These early Christmas gifts were typically just hand-made mementos of the year’s past and were typically opened on New Year’s Day.
Store-bought gifts were mostly frowned upon until retailers devised religious themed gifts to be exchanged by those celebrating the holy day of Christmas.
Soon businesses got into the act, giving Christmas gifts to their most valued customers hoping that there would be a quid pro quo exchange... a small gift for the customer’s loyalty throughout the year.
The more important the customer (i.e. how much did they buy throughout the year), the larger the "gift".
As you might imagine, some people received big gifts while others received only small tokens of gratitude.
To mask this disproportionate gift giving, decorative wrapping paper was invented in the mid-1800’s to heighten the anticipation of perhaps receiving a larger gift than another might receive.
Soon retailers began to offer elaborate and distinctive gift wrapping to signify where the purchase was made or what be perhaps the contents of the package... (think the light blue box from Tiffany’s).
Today we each spend hundreds of dollars and hours of time checking off names on our Christmas shopping lists... with the hopes of actually exchanging a gift that we might want or will actually use.
No longer are gifts gestures of gratitude towards our friends and loved ones but instead are standardized exchange rituals intended to fill the coffers of merchants dependent upon consumers doing what they do best... consuming.
Bah Humbug I say to all of this nonsense...
The only thing I truly want for Christmas, my birthday, Father’s day, Boss’s day or any other day is simply the idea that someone took a brief moment to think about our friendship.
I would prefer to receive presence rather presents...
Today, like most people, the most valuable commodity that I have is my time and thought...
...and in the end, it’s the people in my life that matter most... not acquiring more things.
The best gift one can give is that of themselves... letting someone know that we’re thinking about them for no other purpose than to say that they matter in our lives...
The wonderful thing about this gift is that it’s not restricted to one or two days a year...
It can be a text, e-mail, or phone call, telling someone that we care about them and that they are meaningful in our lives...
...and simply knowing that we’ve made a difference in the lives of others is the best gift we can ever hope to receive.
Thank you for your support of OptiFuse where we wish you a very Merry Christmas this holiday season.
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