A "Celtic" Look at Christmas... GIfts
If we were Celts, we would be in the season of Samhain--the dark season, which began at Nov. 1. This is the time of long evenings and short days, in Ireland even shorter than here. (This post is not going where you think it is, warning warning.)
During the long evenings before electric lights and television in Ireland, people passed the time with social visits called céilis--visits that might include songs, stories, music, poetry. It was the right time of year to tell the long stories, it was said. For musicians, this sounds like a fantasy world. Music every evening, and everyone enjoying it, just part of the culture... what more could one ask for? To live that sort of life, in that environment: now there's a gift to last a lifetime.
If you live in New England, of course, winter is not necessarily so social. It's cold, and unless we're skiiers or otherwise outdoorsy and rugged, we stay in. And at Christmas, we see friends at Christmas parties and connect for one-hour drop-bys to exchange gifts... but can we classify this as true, community-connecting social time? Even the visits can seem laden with obligation. It's nearly become trite at this time of year to hear this warning: "Don't rush around so much, don't worry about the gifts, it's about the people." We all know it should be true, but that "no gifts" thing only works if everyone agrees to it... plus, who doesn't like gifts? And small gifts are often the best ones! Plus, rushing around is all part of making an event into an event; sometimes you just gotta get over it and do it.
One way to relieve the shopping stress is to boycott it--just don't do them. I have many friends who are doing that, mostly for financial reasons. But trying to change that gift-giving tradition is like telling the ocean to stop making tides. Here's another stress relief option, with that in mind. How about this: change your attitude. Just get out there, find nice small stuff, and enjoy it, for God's sake.
We'll be in Ireland for Christmas, and so we've done our shopping early, and soon I'll be packing one large suitcase with a host of small gifts for family and friends that we love dearly. Yes, it cost us some dough--not a ton. All small gifts. Yes, it took a good chunk of time doing all the shopping. Yes, it will be a pain to carry the extra suitcase. But I wouldn't trade anything for the joy of visiting with each of those people and the pleasure of handing them their little box.
Christmas without gifts? Preposterous!