All I really want for Christmas...

Gifts under our christmas tree

IN the weeks before Christmas, a shopping trip in Johor Baru is a mad frenzy of snarling traffic and human congestion.  The whole stretch of Jalan Tebrau is almost always chock-a-block with vehicles and it is impossible to find parking space in any of the malls. 

Then there are the long waits in line to pay for one's purchases.  With the annual influx of holiday makers and festive shoppers, the people and vehicle congestion in Johor Baru is definitely at its peak during Christmas time.

I remember Christmas as a special time when mum would thoroughly spring clean the house before dad put up our Christmas tree.  We the children always tried to help but probably gave our parents more stress trying to help with the decoration.  Then we would observe with excitement the packages under the tree that grew in number as the days passed.

Peggy [Far Left] holding my big dolly
with sisters, Ruby [Centre] and Pearly [Right]
Mum and dad always kept us guessing as to which were our presents as there would usually be no names on the gifts.  When the adults were not looking, my siblings and I would examine the wrapped presents closely for hints on who they were for. 

While we shook the boxes and even sniffed them to guess the contents, we were careful not to damage the nicely wrapped gifts and wrapping paper.  Sometimes we could tell from the obvious shapes that the gifts were books, but I will always remember a big doll that I received from our grandfather Ah Kong.

It was only recently that I learnt from mum that this doll created a bit of jealousy among the children and Ah Kong had to buy a similar one to placate the disgruntled cousin.  My dolly had a cherubic face, golden hair and wore shoes and socks with her pretty dress.  Her eyes would even shut when I laid her down to sleep.

I loved this doll for many years and kept it for so long that mildew started to grow on her face. One day my mum gently suggested that I throw her away because she was beyond repair and I reluctantly agreed to part with her.

When I was a child, shopping and traffic congestion were not my concern because I was on the receiving end of others' goodwill.  But now I've learnt that there's more joy in giving than in receiving.  Having an extended family and a wide circle of friends means I have to write a list to prepare well thought-out gifts that are appropriate for each and every one.  To avoid the last minute rush, my gift buying starts whenever I see anything suitable anywhere at any time of year.

While expensive and branded items may make an impression, you don't have to burn a hole in your pocket to find something nice.  Like birthday gifts, Christmas gifts are also personal and they should suit the individual's taste and interest.  It just takes a little bit of thought to get it right and when you do, seeing the happiness on the recipient's face will be gratifying.  If it is obvious that your friend or family member has had to feign excitement upon opening the gift, maybe it's time to pay more attention to his or her likes and dislikes before you go out shopping.

When my youngest nephew opened my gift to him this year, he excitedly shouted his thanks because it was just what he wanted. This gawky teenager, who recently sprouted more fuzz on his face, was simply delighted to receive his first shaving set from me!

I believe it's better to give something thoughtful or useful which can be appreciated instead of an impersonal and generic item.  If you are clueless about what to give, it's safe to present some classy chocolate or yummy all-butter shortcake which the recipient could share with others who would only be too glad to help to appreciate it.  A personalised gift shows just how much we know the person and I'm grateful to get meaningful gifts every year.

One unforgettable Christmas several years ago, a church elder we fondly call Uncle Charles delivered a Christmas message about giving gifts.  The tradition of gift giving, after all, started with the first Christmas. As he was speaking, he waved a small white envelope [that contained something] that he and his wife came across while on holiday in Australia, and thought how it would make an appropriate gift for someone back home.

Uncle Charles gave me this bumper sticker
Later during our traditional Christmas lunch, while the church family were exchanging greetings and gifts, I was shocked when Uncle Charles presented that envelope to me!

Firstly, I was deeply touched that he and his wife had thought about me while they were on holiday. 

When I opened the envelope, I saw a bumper sticker for my car and when I read the words on it, I was stunned that Uncle Charles had thought those witty words were about me! 

It read: "Women are born leaders -- You are following one now!"   If you know Uncle Charles, you would know that it was an absolutely radical choice for a gift.  The bumper sticker may have cost a mere A$2 (about RM6) but it's priceless to me because it came with such special thoughts.

It's not how big or how pricey the gift may be. I agree with Burton Hillis who said, and I quote: "The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree (is) the presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other."

This article was first published in The New Straits Times, Johor Streets on 3 January 2011

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