I Hope You Got a Christmas Present As Good As This One

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You know the old saying: it’s better to give than to receive?

It’s almost always true. Almost. Sometimes, gifts you receive are better than the ones you give.

First, the benefits of giving. A large 5-year study shows that giving to others extends life, while receiving help (like welfare) shortens life:

“As the title of our study indicates,” Poulin says, “we tested the hypothesis that providing help to others would predict a reduced association between stress and mortality for the helpers. Specifically, over the five years of the study, we found that when dealing with stressful situations, those who had helped others during the previous year were less likely to die than those who had not helped others,” he says.

“These findings go beyond past analyses to indicate that the health benefits of helping behavior derive specifically from stress-buffering processes,” Poulin says, “and provide important guidance for understanding why helping behavior specifically may promote health and, potentially, for how social processes in general may influence health.”

That makes sense. Many other studies over many years have shown that giving benefits the giver more than it does the the receiver. I’ll try not to use these data to vilify the evil of welfare, because I’m writing about something more important: a very special Christmas gift.

I’m grateful for all the loving gifts I received from my wife, my step-mom, and others. I appreciate them. Especially the book on love from my wife and the touching note inscribed on the inside cover. But something happened that touched me even more deeply.

Christmas was a hectic day for us. We live on the very western edge of St. Louis County, far away from all our relatives. We have multiple places to visit every year, because we can’t ask a bunch of people drive all the way out to our house through narrow, winding country roads. We’ve learned that the surest way to bring a white Christmas is trying to host the Christmas party at our place.

Yesterday, we found out we had to alter our plans at the last minute. We had to be in Granite City by noon, then South St. Louis. So we put off opening presents until after the day’s travels. No big deal.

So we all made it back home and got into comfortable winter clothes about 9:30 to continue the celebration. The last to arrive was my son, Patrick. He’s twenty.

Now, I don’t expect any Christmas gifts from my kids. They’ll work their whole lives to pay taxes to fund my late-life extravagance. We have, after all, created a real-life Hunger Games in which the affluent adults feed off the impoverished youth.

But Patrick didn’t want to wait for the Social Security Administration to take its skim and pass along his earnings to us.

Patrick bought gifts for everyone in the house. He was so pleased to pass them out. He got me a Leatherman Wave multi-tool survival kit. For his step brother, who loves beef jerky, he got a half pound of homemade jerky from a local butcher shop. He gave something to everyone, and he put thought into every gift.

Yesterday I wrote about the importance of this Christmas, because every Christmas might be your last chance to make it truly special. That was about the joy of people and the joy of giving.

Last night, I learned about the joy of getting. It made me realize that I’m still learning.

Here’s what I think I learned: when your kids are grown, you’ll be tempted to think Christmas’s magic has diminished. Just then, God and your kids will conspire to make you see how wrong you can be.

Merry Christmas.

Images: Featured–Willow the German Shepherd Moose, by Bill Hennessy. Some rights reserved. Leatherman Wave Tool, by Bill Hennessy.