Brand building through storytelling

What I learned from my first Christmas gift to my sister

Strictly speaking, the first Christmas gift I ever gave was a styrofoam ball with a pipecleaner hook and glued-on sequins for a semblance of sparkle. My mother used to hang this offering on our tree every year and when she died it came to my ornament box, where it sits undisturbed season after season.

Because the styrofoam ball held meaning for my mother, I can’t bring myself to throw it out. “Rona made this for me,” she must have thought, choosing an unobtrusive branch for the clunkiest bauble on the tree. But I doubt if I was thinking of my mother as I struggled to place my sequins according to the dictates of my kindergarten teacher. At five I knew there was nothing the least bit creative about kindergarten crafts. And I had figured out another thing, too: grownups bought their gifts. They drove to the store, searched the aisles, counted their money and laid it on the counter. They came home with packages, smiling to themselves. I looked forward to the day when I too could go to the store with Christmas money.

I was eight when the moment arrived. With my saved-up allowance in the palm of my mitten (safer than a pocket, my mother had said), I walked through the pearly silence of a snowfall to the only store in our town that sold toys. But in the end it wasn’t a toy that I picked out for my four-year-old sister Joyce. I chose a rose-pink box adorned with dancing pixies. Inside the box were five doll-size bottles of eau de toilette, each one a different pastel shade.

LittlejoyceTo me they were the essence of glamour, a big-girl gift sure to thrill my pesky kid sister (That’s her on the left.) All year long I had kept a competitor’s eye on Joyce, whom I accused of making free with my dolls and snaffling the bigger slice of whichever fragrant dessert had just emerged from the oven. But that day I wanted to send a different message to my rival.”You’re not just a baby anymore. You’re a girl, like me.”

Even back then in the heyday of Father Knows Best, my mother did not look kindly on beauty products as the focus of sisterly bonding. The arrangement of her lips said it all. As for Joyce, she forgot those precious bottles long ago. But for me they remain a touchstone in my life as a Christmas giver.

I didn’t buy them to tick someone’s name off a list, to express my knowledge of red-carpet style trends or to flaunt my generosity with that famous little blue box. I’ve since fallen into all these traps and then some. But that long-ago Christmas I just wanted to delight my sister. And I did.

In my latest column for Best Health (the new Canadian women’s magazine from the Reader’s Digest team), I’ve used this memory as the starting point for a guide to meaningful giving. I’ve explored the gamut of seasonal conundrums. For instance: why do husbands and boyfriends insist on asking, “Honey, how much have you spent on my gifts?” Will a new friend be embarrassed if you hand her a gift and she hasn’t brought one for you? And what about the etiquette of charitable donations in lieu of gifts?

I wrote my column, “The Job of Giving,” back in July, when the insistent background hum of economic unease had yet to become the roar we’re hearing now. Today I opened my morning paper to find this headline: “Sorry, kids, Santa’s tightening his belt.” In a moment of weakness I suggested to my husband that instead of buying gifts for each other, we should go carpet-shopping at a January sale. “That’s a bit draconian,” he said. “Let’s buy a few stocking stuffers for Christmas morning.”

Sounds like a plan. After all, I’ve learned from experience that an open heart and a mittenful of saved-up allowance are all it takes to buy the perfect gift.


Posted by Rona

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