When I was 8, all I wanted for Christmas were Legos. The popular sets in those days were cities and urban design, which went well with my odd childhood obsession of sewer systems and urban engineering. Three years later, I became captivated by Harry Potter. That year, my parents gave me Hagrid’s Hut and the Hogwarts Castle.
Though my parents may have grown frustrated that all I ever hoped for were Legos, those sets are inevitably what led to the presents they now get for Christmas. Through building those Lego sets, I learned the joy of creativity.
Today, that joy of creativity continues inspiring my gifts. If you’re still looking for a Christmas gift, perhaps look inside yourself. Try creating. Try loving.
When I entered the Jesuits, I chose a life of poverty. My first Christmas as a Jesuit, I felt unsure of what to do about gifts. Some Jesuits told me that they just gave up giving presents. Others bought small gifts cards.
But I was most struck by the approach of one Jesuit: he cooks. It is a simple, delicious, and gracious gift to cook for one’s family. He gave his creativity, a bit of himself.
I started simple and looked to others for advice. Fellow Jesuit Rich Schuckman taught me some tricks. I remembered some basic directions my dad gave me. I began by making picture frames. They were far from professional and certainly not stellar. (In fact, I’d like to have them back. But like a second-grader’s poorly-drawn Santa, mom keeps them!)
Woodworking is the way that I express my creativity, thus becoming my gift of choice. I’ve progressed from sub-par picture frames to wine racks, spice shelves, mini hanging gardens, and coffee tables.
As I’ve practiced, my talents and gifts have become more advanced. Increased skill, however, brought me back to the same problem that people have when buying presents: focusing on the perfect gift, rather than my love for that person. As I made a table for my sister Mary, I fretted over its excellence. I anxiously called her about what precisely she hoped for. She dismissed my anxiety and said that she would be thrilled by whatever I made.
And she meant it.
Though my projects are more advanced now, they are still imperfect. That’s not only OK, it’s a good thing. I worry that perfect gifts focus on the wrong subjects – myself and my perfection – instead of love and appreciation. Gifts should be about the creative love I can offer and gratitude for relationships I share with family and friends.
I cannot buy family and friends the perfect present, but I can give my creative love.
If you’re still looking for a gift this Christmas, let me pose a challenge to you: be creative.
Here are three suggestions that don’t require years of practice:
- Advanced coloring sheets. One of my friends introduced me to these. As she colors them, she considers what she most appreciates about that person. On the back of the sheet, she tells her friends why she loves them and what memories came up while she colored.
- Handmade ornaments. These can be easy and always appreciated among the otherwise drab baubles. My favorite technique is using some 1X1” pine and a wood-burning pen. It’s beginner-friendly, I promise! You can get more advanced by using wax paper to transfer color images to the wood.
- Mix CDs. This little throwback is one of my favorites. In a time when it is increasingly easy to lock into playlists and headphones, mix CDs help us to share. My soon-to-be-brother-in-law Dan gave each family member CDs last year. For me, it said that Dan really wanted to know and appreciate each of us.
I hope your Christmas is full of great joy, great creativity, and great love.