Every year, around this time, Grandma Jeanette and Grandpa Izzy would park their Lincoln Continental in our driveway, and climb the steps of our house with a big bag, which they parked in the corner of our living room. My parents, brothers and I would light the first Hanukkah candles and sing the blessings. We’d eat latkes (fried potato pancakes), and after we finished our meal with sufganiot (fried jelly-filled donuts), Grandma and Grandpa would reach into the bag and start handing out small packages wrapped in white tissue paper tied up with blue ribbon. One gift each. Because our grandparents made the hour trip on the first night only, my parents parceled out the presents – one gift each – each night the rest of the week. But as we tore off the sheer wrapping, we were counting the days till that other holiday. Because across the room was our blinking 6 ½-foot-tall fir, dressed in all kinds of ornaments and bordering on ungapatchka – that’s Yiddish for over-decorating.
I am the daughter of a Jewish mother and Catholic father. As is tradition, I was raised Jewish, but just as Dad shared in our observances, we always had a tree, under which, on Christmas morning, were piles of big boxes wearing gloss and glimmer.
While I would be lying to say I don’t enjoy receiving really big presents, I’ve come to realize that the most sustainable gifts of my life have been opened over the course of time: falling more deeply in love, watching children grow up. And we can give simple, small “tissue-paper” gifts, whether it’s donating clothes and food, answering a hotline, giving a much-needed hug. These gifts cost as much as you want to spend in time and energy. The weekend before this writing, my family spent a day in Far Rockaway, cleaning out homes and serving dinner. One day. A few trays of pasta. Not a big deal. Add that to the 20 others with us, and the 20 who’d come in the days before…and in the days after….
If you’re reading this, you’re already committed to AWP and likely familiar with our Equality Value that states in order for us to have a balanced society, we must work together. However, if you’re thinking about expanding your collaborative efforts, check out http://www.volunteermatch.org to find other short- or long-term volunteering opportunities in your community that call to you. Big presents may make us jump for joy, but it’s the small gifts that bring joy to the world.