Gift bags change hands more often than a dollar bill.
It wasn't always so.
When lights began to grow on trees, we pushed tables together to make enough room to eat. We suffered from a full-nest syndrome. The kids ate at card tables with frail legs. Perilous dining. Plates of food went by at a furious rate. By the time I was finally able to take a bite, someone passed another plate heaped with grub.
After the meal had been devoured and the dishes were washed, we formed a circle of love. It was time for the youngest to pass out the gifts. As the radio played Burl Ives singing unwrap music, the gifts were opened as if it were a timed event. No rodeo cowboy ever had better times wrestling a gift. Shredded wrapping paper filled the air.
We watched tots playing with boxes and realized that we needn't have put any toys in the boxes. Soon, all the presents had been opened except my father’s.
He looked at his gifts. Most of them were the same size and shape. That was because most of them were boxes of chocolate-covered cherries.
Dad picked up a gift and said something like, "It's so pretty, it's a shame to open it."
We all paused to watch my father as he didn't open his gifts.
Dad reached into his pocket and removed a well-worn Barlow jackknife. If someone asked to use my father’s jackknife, he handed it to the requestor with the admonition, “Be careful. It’s sharp.” The blades had been honed thin by years of sharpening. He carefully sliced the cellophane tape in order to preserve the gift-wrapping paper. He folded the paper and placed it neatly on the floor near his chair. It took him longer to open his few gifts than it did for all of us to open ours.
Christmas comes and goes all too quickly. Maybe Dad was trying to slow it down and take the time to appreciate the gifts.
As I recall the events of Christmas past, I realize that possessions never bring as much happiness as moments do. Cameras capture moments. So do memories.
When the past and the present collide as they do each Christmas, I know that happiness doesn't come from having things. Happiness comes from being a part of things.
I once owned a Ford whose gas gauge moved in direct response to the speedometer. When the car's speed increased, I could see the fuel level drop. There are those who claim that this is a common experience for humans around Christmas time. Folks see their joy level dip with each added activity and obligation.
Maybe everyone needs to open his or her gifts with an old jackknife.