Consider The Basic Gifts



What gifts are you giving this Christmas? It is a question that can bring
forth a myriad of responses. In his “Gifts” essay, philosopher Ralph Waldo
Emerson (1803-1882) said he always struggled mightily with what to give to
whom. In his words, “The impediment lies in choosing.” Then he went on to
describe the three basic kinds of gifts.
First, there are gifts of necessity. When a person is hungry, you give
food; when barefoot, you give shoes; when cold, you give clothing.
Secondly, there are gifts that are associated with the receiver. To a
scholar, you may give a book or other resources; an artist could be
presented with a painting or art supplies; a collector may be given a
figurine or piece of china.
Finally, there are the gifts associated with the giver – something that
comes from the giver’s own life, talent, or work – something that is the
very essence of the giver. The shepherd might give a lamb; the seamstress
might give a beautifully designed handkerchief; the poet might give a poem.
I thought of Emerson’s “Gifts” as my wife Jean worked for several months
this year on some Christmas gifts for our seven-year-old grandson Trey. It
would have been much easier and much less time consuming for her to have
purchased store-bought gifts. But she did the same thing last year – and
Trey absolutely loved the things she made, especially the customized,
one-of-a-kind shower curtain. We secretly hung the curtain that contained
her creative drawings of lizards, snakes and other creatures that only a
relatively few people might appreciate. However, when all was said and done
on Christmas day and everyone wondered where Trey was and why he was so
quiet, he was found admiring and intensely studying the curtain. He loves to
take showers now.
I think Jean succeeded in giving a gift that was highly associated with
the receiver and was, at the same time, something from an area in which she
is talented and something she loves to do – create. The shower curtain was a
tremendous hit, but this year I think she has outdone herself. She has
created a one-of-a-kind sweatshirt that features a frog on the front. On one
sleeve is a large lizard. On the other sleeve is a boa constrictor that goes
up the sleeve, around to the top of the back, and down the neck. The major
portion of the back features a macaw. Her bird is brilliantly-red, with
mixtures of green, yellow, and blue. Above it is a butterfly. (And just to
think, prior to Trey and his creatures, her primary creations were flowers
and calligraphic sayings and verses.) If it sounds like I am impressed, it
is because I am. Amazed and impressed.
I am even more amazed and impressed with the deepest meaning of the
Christmas season when you get down to the nitty-gritty of it all. As Emerson
wrote of the basic gifts that focus on need, the receiver, and something
that comes from the very essence of the giver, I wonder if he thought about
God’s gift to us.
May you have a blessed and Merry Christmas!
Carl Mays, author of over a dozen books and speaker at over 2500 events, can be contacted at or 865-436-7478. His books, including “A Strategy For Winning,” “People of Passion,” “Anatomy Of A Leader” and “Are We Communicating Yet?” are available in stores, at, and on

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