On the Getting and Giving of Christmas Presents

Author’s program note. I started and just about finished my Christmas shopping all in one night. The night that is the anniversary of the death of Queen Victoria’s much loved husband Prince Albert… and is the only day of any year when the public can view his mausoleum at Frogmore, on the grounds of Windsor Castle. The great queen is also buried there. I went once on a rainy day many years ago to see and found she had gone to the greatest possible lengths to make sure she was ready for him, her comfort through the anticipated blissful ages to come.

Prince Albert is on my mind today because he is most probably the man who launched in England the idea of the Christmas tree. And once he had done so, loyalists in the empire on which the sun never set felt obliged to have Christmas trees, too, even former imperial colonies like our Great Republic.

Prince Albert brought the idea from his picayune principality Saxe Coburg Gotha. If it had been up to them, the idea of Christmas trees would have stayed German, insignificant, and parochial… but Queen Victoria ruled over half the world… and her prince ruled over her. He liked Christmas trees (indeed, he liked all things that were family oriented and allowed him to drop a sentimental tear or two)… thus Victoria liked Christmas trees… it was the royal couple’s gift to the world. I’m glad; I do like the things with all their trimmings and bongs for sale especially their fresh pine scents.

Besides, all the presents do look nice artfully arranged under the tree, don’t they? And since this is a story about Christmas presents, it’s nice to know you have a beautiful tree packed with mementos and memories of past years, a suitable place for packages wrapped and unwrapped.

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Thus, I have selected the seasonal favorite “O Christmas Tree” as the incidental music for this article. The best known version was written in 1824 by Leipzig organist Ernst Anschutz. It may also have been introduced into England by Prince Albert, whose aspects were serious, nervous, severely self-critical and often lachrymose. If such a hard-working man (dead at just 42) could take pleasure in an actual tree and a fine tune about that tree, I am glad he found some comfort and joy at Christmas and thank him for introducing these features of the season to his wife… then the world. You can find many renditions of this song in any search engine. It’s very soothing…

December Evening

I am a person who has absolutely no Christmas spirit at all until I set about the important business of selecting gifts for my chosen ones. You see, I am one of the decided minority of people who actually like selecting and giving gifts. I do not regard the matter as forced (as so many others, budding Scrooges all), onerous, a ridiculous waste of time and money, over as early and inexpensively as possible. No, indeed.
I grew up in an Illinois home, part of the famous Baby Boom generation which has, since its conception, had such a pronounced effect on manners and mores. Giving apt presents was one of the things my family and friends liked to do, even grandpa Walt who could be notoriously crusty about such matters, especially if the spending of money was involved (as, with Christmas, it always was). I have carried this cheerfulness with me even during my earliest days when money was scarce and one was, therefore, often frustrated and impatient. That, at least, is not the problem now.

The real problem I face is two-fold. First, my annual list is dwindling year by year, compliments of the Grim Reaper, who most assuredly is no cheerleader for Christmas. Second, with only two exceptions (niece Chelsea and nephew Kyle) there are only two young people on the list, and they are already young adults, teen-age years already gone. My adult recipients all have comfortable lives, needing nothing but the one thing I cannot give: good health. Each and every one of them has a pressing health need… and we are all at the age when no conversation would be complete without a full and complete health update. Still, needing nothing, they would be most dismayed if nothing came from me… and I should think most poorly of myself. And so, after the day’s work is done, I take out the stacks of catalogs I have been hoarding for months… and which are essential to the only kind of shopping I will ever do… shopping which can be done from the ease and comfort of home, never entering a store for any reason whatsoever.

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