“I am coming to dread the holidays,” said one a day or two ago, who was, I know, the soul of generosity and dearly loves her friends.
“Why so?” I asked.
“It always seems to me if that should be the brightest, gayest time of the year, because it brings so many pleasant thoughts of those one cares for. Christmas present giving has come to be just as it is in the case of weddings.
“Now, to remember and be remembered by one’s friends by some pretty little gift, conceit or odd fancy is delightful, but the day of small things is passing, and presents are growing more and more costly, so that the custom is becoming an absolute burden.”
“There is something wrong,” I answered, “and it is just here. We have, not any of us, independence enough to do just what we know we ought, but try to fulfill what we imagine are other people’s expectations. If each one would show our Christmas thought of those we love by some simple gifts, which, in the aggregate, would be no burden, there could be no dreading of the beautiful holiday time by anybody. And then if one did not feel able to afford even a little thing, there are always pleasant words and warm wishes to offer.”
“I know it,” she said with a sigh, and then with a bright look, she added, “but I want to do something more, and I’m going to if I live on bread and water for four weeks afterward. The bother is, though, that Fred don’t take to the bread and water diet kindly. Men never do, you know. Sentiment don’t count beside a good dinner.”
It seems to me that there is something very beautiful in this custom of putting heart thoughts in some little gift, that all over the land each one is trying to give pleasure to others, to make life a little brighter by these tokens of friendly regard. Even if it has been done at a little self-sacrifice, it is well, for the effort has driven self in the background, and made the world a brighter place for somebody to live in.
There is one thing, however, to be kept in mind — and in a forgetfulness of this lies the trouble. It is not the value of what is given that is to be considered. It is the friendly thought which counts. Never, therefore, be betrayed into the folly of giving what you cannot afford, because you may think it is expected, or you imagine that the recipients have so much that a simple thing will be uncared for.
I shall never forget the remarks I heard once by a rich woman who had received a present from an acquaintance in limited circumstances. The gift was beautiful, and was evidently costly. I spoke of its beauty. “Yes,” she said, “but how inappropriate. I know, and everybody knows, that she cannot afford that sort of thing. I would rather have had a single rosebud, for I would have been sure then that she need not pinch herself for weeks to make up for giving it to me.”
Give, for it is a pleasant thing to do, but give justly. Lay aside what you can spend without embarrassment to yourself, and then do the best you can with it. If you can spare no money, and have no leisure to make pretty and inexpensive things, give pleasant words and wishes. Have faith enough in your friends to believe they will understand you.
Peace and good will! That is what the season means.