When I was a little girl growing up in Egypt, my family celebrated Christmas in keeping with the Coptic Christian faith. Naturally, this time of year was deeply exciting for me. All the decorations and the parties, the delicious foods and the music and the games… and yes, the gifts. What child isn’t thrilled to tear off the wrapping paper from a new toy or book? It was magical for me.
But from an early age I can remember finding it equally pleasurable to watch my parents unwrap the gift I had made for them, perhaps a story written in wonky penmanship or a misshapen pot fashioned from clay and paints. It was evident to me that they truly loved the gifts, because they were from me. A sort of visible love.
I have carried with me the joy of giving gifts – giving love – from those early days. Now, of course, I am more likely to purchase a gift than attempt to craft one out of clay, though I do love to give home-baked cakes and biscuits, and of course my novels are a natural choice for a gift. I enjoy spending the weeks leading up to Christmas shopping for gifts, thinking of what will delight friends and family, what will make them feel valued and cared for. It is as Khalil Gibran has written, that for ‘those who give with joy… that joy is their reward’.
Of course, giving at Christmas does not only mean ‘things’ wrapped in beautiful paper and topped with a bow. It means so much more than that. For me, the true meaning of Christmas is giving – giving of oneself. Being kind. Being compassionate. Being selfless.
But then, I think as I write, surely that is not only the true meaning of Christmas; surely that is the path to a good and happy life? I am reminded of Ebenezer Scrooge of Dickens’ 1843 novella A Christmas Carol, he of the ‘Bah humbug’ philosophy that saw him cold and miserable and alone. Following an epiphany sparked by a night-time journey with three ghosts, he declares:
‘I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.’
Christmas, it strikes me, is not merely a time for giving – it is a time to remember that we ought always to be giving. Easy for me to write, I know, but often harder to practise from day to day. But have you noticed that the verb we pair with words like gratitude and compassion and generosity is ‘practise’? All we need do is keep practising, keep trying. As Gandhi said:
‘The simplest acts of kindness are by far more powerful than a thousand heads bowing in prayer.’
On the subject of giving, I would love to give you, dear reader, a gift. Please visit https://hannahfielding.net/christmas-giveaway/ to enter my Christmas giveaway and win a copy of my latest novel or a lovely item from English Heritage. They are all wrapped up and ready to post, and I’m so looking forward to sending out these gifts.
Photo credit: Alexander Raths/Shutterstock.com.