Don Loprieno is a published author and has maintained a life-long interest in education and history. He lives in Bristol, Maine where he is active in community affairs. Don is a frequent contributor to a radio program called Into the Wilderness broadcast Tuesday evenings from 8-8:30 on WMPG FM 90.9.
The recent arrival of snow – dusting and storm alike – are unmistakable signs of winter’s advent. One result is that people everywhere tend to band together a little bit more, knowing that while there may not be peace on earth, home at least can be a place of security and reassurance. While world events seem sometimes as if we were all afloat in the same small boat on a white-capped sea, our own personal port in unsettled weather can be a very safe place indeed.
Christmas especially seemed to symbolize this feeling, especially through the bonding of families and the giving of gifts. In recent years, however, the simple act of making a present to someone has become tainted by materialism and self-indulgence — what the poet Walt Whitman called “the mania of owning things.” The historical perspective shows that this has only recently been the case.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, Christmas was a time of solemn religious observance. It was not until the 19th century with the advent of the industrial revolution and the mass production and availability of material objects that the giving of presents started to become prominent. Christmas acquired a festive air, when, according to tradition, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, Queen Victoria’s Consort, introduced the German custom of Christmas trees to England.
As that was known as the Victorian Age, the present era might be called the Age of Stuff. The comedian George Carlin used to make fun of our obsession with stuff, even pointing out why we tended to be a little uncomfortable in someone else’s house — the stuff we were surrounded with wasn’t ours!
Now that Christmas 2016 is over, we might reflect on the need for more stuff as we bought things we really didn’t need (or even sometimes really didn’t want) as if some kind of contest were in place, one that we will always lose because more of anything can never be enough. After all, even the Christ child received only three presents.
As we move into another year and as we look back and look ahead, we might remember that the point is not to accumulate things for their own sake, but to give something to someone — and often that need not be tangible, or confined to family or friends. Make a donation in someone’s name to a favorite charity instead of purchasing yet another gift. Help at a food bank or a library or a used clothing exchange, visit a shut-in, reach out to someone who might be lonely or less fortunate, volunteer at the local animal shelter — the choices are almost endless, but the result is the same: by giving of your time and your interest, you enrich others as well as yourself.
We’ve all heard the cliché that it is better to give than receive, but like all such expressions, it rests on a kernel of truth. We probably no longer give it much thought, but the two acts are not separate. In giving to those we know and love and those we don’t know but who are in need, we do our part to make life a little better and happier, and the knowledge of that contribution can make receiving anything else unnecessary.
It’s not difficult at all. Resist the urge to buy a lot of “stuff.” Instead, call a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while; visit a neighbor who might have spent the holiday alone; where you see indifference or cruelty, replace it with compassion and kindness. You’ll be richer for it — and in a small but meaningful way, so will the world. In fact, it’s the way the world changes — one positive step at a time, just as a ripple in a small pond eventually combines with others and becomes part of a mighty ocean’s powerful and sweeping current.