So, it’s Christmas and I am walking through NYC with a bright pink nose, frozen fingertips (because I can never seem to find my elbow length vintage gloves), and four layers of cashmere and cotton under my overcoat. Every restaurant plays their favorite selection of holiday tunes, the lemonade and iced tea I drank all summer has been replaced by hot cocoa and cider. Brightly, colored lights adorn the street lamps and Little Italy is covered with Buon Natale garlands. Rockefeller Center is all aglow and the windows at Barney’s are outrageously filled with sparkles, sculptures and creativity. Every street corner holds a miniature forest of pine and fur trees imported from Vermont just waiting to be chosen, taken home, and dressed to the nines. Christmas in New York. There’s nothing like it.
Scouring the streets, shopping for presents, I try to decide the best things to give my friends and family. I am looking at a random stuffed elf in a box sitting on a counter filled with other random stuffed elves. There is a sign that claims this “Shelf Elf” is the “The New Holiday Tradition”. This elf makes me sad. It is bastardizing the word tradition. You can’t just decide to market something as “tradition;” that is not what tradition is. Tradition comes with time and commitment, it is a titled earned with loved ones, not a cheap holiday trinket and not something named by a PR firm which names anything special if they think it will sell. Anyone remember the pet rock?
I have been through every different, bizarre phase of gift giving possible. My relationship with wrapping paper and bows has gone from totally materialistic, like the mobs in the city running from store to store manically trying to gather enough stuff to feel as though they have served their holiday obligations, to non-existent, essentially boycotting the idea of giving and spending the holidays on my soapbox protesting over consumption. And on the reverse I have also found gift giving incredibly meaningful, spending hours looking to acquire the most awesome and impactful present I can find, the one that sums up all that the recipient means to me. Mixed CDs that outline my exact feelings for a friend, homemade scrapbooks illustrating memories and poems, letters, and cards with content that is poured from my heart.
A gift can be a perfect opportunity to encapsulate all I feel about somebody I love. A whirlwind of memories cascade through me until I come up with the perfect symbol of all the experiences I have shared. It is “me” imbued on an object and then shared. The closest thing to my love for a person in tangible form. Crazy.
Two days ago the temperature here dropped to the degree that demands the BIG scarves and jackets. I keep these things tucked away in a separate box because they take up too much room in my drawers. I get on all fours and peek under my bed. There amongst the dust bunnies and single socks is my winter clothes box. I open the lid and reveal…the most beautiful and perfect scarf I have ever seen in my entire life.
Every year it is as though I unwrap this present from my dearest friend for the first time. It is the best scarf that has ever existed. To start, it is HUGE! Somewhere between a blanket and a shawl, this hand-knit scarf covers every part of my neck and shoulders. It consists of about twelve colors, each one hand selected and individually knotted to the color that came before it. Several holes patched throughout the design represent scars that have come as a result of my somewhat mindless way of walking through the world and the middle of the scarf is soaked with the smell of gardenia and jasmine oils; I have become a part of the scarf now. My friend and I have blended our memories, our smells, our styles and our lives, all entwined in this scarf. It has become a metaphor of our friendship and the beautiful blend of souls adventuring through separate lives together.
Even before I was given the gift, it had been covered with the essence and personality of the woman who created it. Every stitch had been wrapped through her fingers as she knitted at the back of theatres, inside box offices, and on her couch in her beautifully tiny apartment on the prettiest street on the North East coast. She knows me better than any one. You can tell by the yarn she chose. She knew me well enough to know I could only really use something that is multi colored. This comes from years of changing my mind. You can tell by the size. She knows how hard I try to come off tough and independent and how most of the time I am dying for a hug, so she made one, a hug for me to wear all the time. She is my best friend for life and my first friend from childhood. I call her “concrete”. She grounds me in all that is true and real and reminds me of who I am and what is most important to me. This scarf is a representation of all that.
This scarf redefined gift giving for me for the rest of my life.
So I race through my city, across my bridge and into the madness of frenetic shopping and holiday jingles. I struggle to keep my focus on the goal in collecting these presents. But now, armed with five feet of wool wrapped around my neck I can keep my head on straight. I can remember the true purpose of holidays such as this. And I can keep myself focused on finding the most perfect symbol of affection for those I love most. The warmth of friendship draped over my shoulders, protecting my neck from the bitter cold and holding me true to what is most important.
Wishing you peace, good will and your own giant, multi colored, scarf hug of love this holiday season.