Best gifts can’t be wrapped; holidays shouldn’t be about stuff

By Norman Knight

I have been told I am hard to buy for. I am sure this is true. Usually it doesn’t cause a problem, except during the run-up to my birthday and during the gift-giving season in which we find ourselves. At one time “Did you make a wish list?” was the question I would get. No one bothers to ask me that anymore. They know the answer.

I wasn’t always this way. When I was a kid I composed multi-volume Christmas lists. When I watched Chuck Connors on The Rifleman fire then spin his rifle or saw Steve McQueen on Wanted Dead or Alive swivel his sawed-off shotgun from his special holster, I knew that could be me in the backyard firing at imaginary villains. With a Zorro mask, cape and sword I could swing in to the hacienda—it was really an abandoned chicken coop — and wield my rapier against the evil-doers . And since Mattel Inc., advertised all over my Saturday morning TV shows, I wished for a Fanner 50 pistol for my arsenal. Obviously, our television set drove much of my Christmas wishing. I would swing at everything it pitched to me.

As I got older my wish list changed from toy weapons that would embellish my childhood imaginary life to merchandise more suitable to my grown-up imagination. I asked for this and that over the years until I started to notice I was slowly losing interest in having more grown-up weapons in my arsenal. I believe I still have an imagination, but, as time went on I didn’t seem to need objects around to make my dreams happen.

I think it is probably that I have been blessed enough over the years to have most of the material things I truly need for a satisfied life. I mean, really, how many ties, tools and trinkets do I need? Many of my fellow Boomers tell me they feel much the same way. They also tell me that their attitude toward gifts has been changing over the years from “I want it all” to “It is better to give than to receive.” That sounds right.

Maybe it’s an age thing, but somehow I doubt it. In cultures throughout history there have been those, young and old, who insist that happiness doesn’t come through things. Recently, Becky read to me a quote from Socrates. As the sage would walk through the ancient Greek markets looking at the multitude of wares on display he would declare, “What a lot of things I don’t need.” I can relate. As I walk through today’s modern shopping malls, I feel like declaring the same thing.

This is not to disparage material possessions. We humans have basic physiological needs such as food and shelter. We need to feel secure and free from worry. We want to be comfortable. And those who don’t have those basic necessities met should be utmost in our thoughts at all times and especially during this holiday season. But somewhere on the way to accumulating things surely it is valid to ask: is there a point when our possessions are possessing us?

So if I do make a Christmas wish list for this year, perhaps I will ask for the gift of thinking more of the needs and wishes of others and less of my own needs and wants. Maybe I’ll wish for more time in relationship with family and friends. Those are the gifts that keep on giving.

Norman Knight, a retired Clark-Pleasant Middle School teacher, writes this weekly column for the Daily Journal. Send comments to