Virtual Christmas Giving

Christmastime is hard on Invisible Grandparents, especially those of us who are experiencing hard times due to the economy. Please accept my story of Virtual Christmas Giving (Forthcoming in a Harlequin Press anthology 2012) of how our family transcended the commercialism of the holiday season as my gift to you. May your season be wonder-filled! Pat 12_7_11

VIRTUAL CHRISTMAS GIVING: A true story of Christmas 1996 and 2011
(c) Pat Hanson

I prefer Halloween to Christmas.  You have an excuse for putting on a mask, can dress up any way you’d like, and pretend.  Soon after, when retailers start luring us with Christmas decorations, muz-ac everywhere plays carols and television repeats all those soppy movies … I get depressed.  Some Christmases are more difficult than others, but one that could have been a catastrophe, transformed forever how our family celebrates December 25th.

In 1996, the day before the office Christmas party, my boss called me in to his office and gave me 30 days notice. Since summer, I’d been the sole support of my husband and teenage stepson, after his plumbing business tanked. Credit cards at their limit, stretched by one income instead of two to cover the expenses of three; we’d done no Christmas shopping and hadn’t even bought a tree.  I didn’t know how I would be able to numb myself with holiday cheer and forget the reality of my financial situation. Tears ran down my cheek on the way home as the announcer proclaimed six shopping days left and the shrill voices of the
Chipmunks sang ‘Christmas, Christmas time is here, time to sing, time for cheer.’

Somehow that week, out of the depths of my despair, I got an idea. We’d have a ‘Virtual Christmas.’  We’d each find and wrap up pictures of five gifts we would have been thoughtful and generous enough to buy, had there been money to put into circulation!  And central to this plan was that one of the virtual gifts had to be intangible, like a quality within you’d like the other to have.

Three days before Christmas I hid the stockings and we decorated our ficus plant with lights. We each looked through catalogues, magazines and our hearts to choose five replica presents for one another, and place them under the ‘tree.’ In addition to the gifts of not only the car, the driver’s license, the baggy sweatshirt and pants, and guitar lessons I’d give to my stepson; was a fifth gift of “confidence in his own talent” that I wrote on a certificate for a course in entrepreneurship for teenagers, so he could market the artistic skill so evident in his cartoons.  He really got into it. He gave me concert tickets to Sting and Gloria Estefan, a color printer for my computer, and some Laurel Burch earrings all wrapped in comics from the Sunday paper. This teenager’s conceptual gift to his stepmom was a sign that said ‘No Speed Limit!’
Besides a white Porsche, Larry gifted me with a vacation in Hawaii, a new PowerBook, a set of Cutco knives, and a stud from the pages of Playgirl (for the few times our batteries are out of synch, he wrote). His conceptual gift to me on a 3×5 card: I give you the magic sword to conquer your Boogie Man, permission to be gentle with yourself, and license to proceed full steam ahead with realization of your writing dreams! For my beloved, I wrapped up the picture of a nose-hair tweezers from the Hammecker Schlemmer catalogue. He’d get a car too, a Dodge Viper like the one we saw the weekend we met, plus a leather jacket, more memory for his computer and a video camera so he could practice at his dream career: film maker. For his virtual gift I inscribed words on a magnifying glass that mirrored utter and absolute belief in himself and the unlimited power
of his creativity.  On Christmas morning, looking at his face as he stared out at the sunrise with tears in his eyes, I silently sent him that missing one percent of faith that would help us all actualize our dreams.

The virtual Christmas presents worked. It’s amazing how a concept once put in the mind, can manifest.  One year later we’d moved and my stepson was registered for a course on Art Presentation at the local community college. My husband was finishing the college degree he’d left 31 years prior.  His belief in himself prompted a mid-life career shift to multi-media instructional technology. I’d successfully hoisted that sword to my writing fears, was studying screenwriting and had published some freelance non-fiction. The three of us found a way to love and give, and not worry about costs or returns.  I offer it now fifteen years later, with an economy in even deeper trouble than I was back then. May our model for  help your families, as it did ours, feel the spirit of giving that is embodied in
the mysterious figure who’s birthday we sometimes forget in the rush of those few weeks at the end of every  year. May it  help you feel the love, abundance and warmth of the present moment with each other on December 25th and all days.

This season one of the things I am most grateful for is that my 61-year-old husband and significant equal who received his 99th unemployment check last fall after that career in technology, is gainfully employed! We’ve practiced many a Virtual Christmas since then. The bubble of actual gift giving seems to have been permanently burst for us. Imagine: if more American families practiced Virtual Christmas, perhaps the travesty that trampled, killed and injured innocent Wal-Mart employees on that horrendous ‘Black Friday’ a few years ago might have been prevented.  Ours is a ridiculously consumptive society,especially when the real meaning of this holiday season is spiritual.

Now in ‘twenty-eleven’ with the highest rate of foreclosures in history upon us,
a still staggering national unemployment rate, major plant and retail closings, a still unstable stock market, gas prices out of control, and with escalating credit card debt the bankruptcy rate the highest in the five years; it is time for more of us to let go of the commercialism that underlies this holiday season. The Virtual conceptual gift I’d give everyone right now, would be a perspective that helps
him/her see the bigger picture.  We in dire financial straights need to realize this is not all about us. Guilt, the gift that keeps on giving, be gone! We need eyes that can see things in a way that helps us transcend our struggles to survive, with our heads held high.  Our individual consumer debt is but a small mirror of the twelve trillion dollar debt our own government amassed in the past ten years, (we owe China 8 billion dollars), a large part of it for wars most of the world agreed shouldn’t have happened.

I would virtually gift us a view of the human condition that goes beyond one’s worth being determined by work, by your j-o-b.  I’d bless us with divine insight as to how the preciousness of each moment must be cherished. I’d gift us all with the capacity to see the abundance around us everywhere. I’d have us each yell ‘thank you!’ as I do every day from Route One of that wide Monterey Bay, or from wherever we are, for the gift of sight alone. My conceptual Virtual Gift this year would show us how serving others (there are always those in more need) is a two way street. Giving in some way, to some source no matter how small, can start a mobius strip of return.

I’d wrap up the concept that love and forgiveness matter, and little else does. How hugs are more important than deadlines. How breathing deeply and sitting still is more essential than driving fast or shopping or even eating a lot. It is the power of positive intention that counts. Make your Holidays this season ‘virtual’
and they can still be ‘merry’!

One response to “Virtual Christmas Giving”

  1. Valerie Fern

    Pat,
    It was long overdue that I read YOUR blog and all that you are so graciously involved with. What an inspiring delight! Thank you very much for reading my blog and especially for your most recent comment. I sit in a small cushion of humbleness and gratitude for your words and the passing on what I do just to release trapped sarcasm and feelings that really have no where else to go! See you soon! Valerie

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