As a follow-up to my earlier post on the holiday season in New York City, I thought I’d take the time to share my thoughts about a major part of the holidays for many fortunate people – the giving of gifts. Whether it’s a pile of presents beneath a Christmas tree or the steady stream of them over the course of eight nights of Hanukah, most children grow up dreaming all year long of the bounty that awaits come December. I’ll be honest, I was one of them. Every year, once Thanksgiving had come and gone, I’d start making a list of all the things I wanted. But at some point in my late teens, I took a look around and realized I had enough “things” and didn’t really need any more. I started to understand that experiences are really what matter in life.
I used to spend trips I was lucky enough to take trying to choose the perfect souvenir to remember a place by. I’m not sorry I did that, because I ended up with a pretty great shelf in my childhood bedroom of bits of culture from around the world. A tiny Canadian Eskimo dog from Quebec, a painted glass charm from Florence, a nesting doll from St. Petersburg and even an Anne Boleyn Christmas ornament from the gift shop at the British Museum (I was obsessed with the Tudors when I was eight). But now, looking back, my memories of those trips did not become any more vivid because I had the objects I associate with them. It’s the constant telling of certain stories, over and over, that embedded some experiences more firmly in my mind than others. The way a certain place made me feel is hard to forget.
Now when the holidays roll around, I think less about the gifts and more about the giving. Some of my best memories are of times made possible because a family member or a friend gave of themselves to make something happen. My mom driving me to and from a thousand Nutcracker rehearsals, so I could have the unforgettable experience of performing on stage in front of thousands. My friends at Oxford organizing a potluck party for ‘Oxmas’ replete with a Secret Santa in which the gifts were all tasks we would be willing to perform for one another when each was struck with the malady known as exams. My little brother letting me hold the Shamash on the first night of Hanukah, and pick the colors of the candles because he knew I liked to make different patterns and see how the colors fit together.
These times are what make the holidays so special, and why I love this season. And lately, I’ve had cause to think more and more about what I can do to create a little bit of magic for others, and not just my own family and friends. One of the biggest parts of my life is the time, energy, and money I put into philanthropy, both as a volunteer of the Junior League and supporter of other organizations. I love contributing to the Met and the ballet. They are particularly important to me because they shaped the person I have become. Ballet taught me grace and strength, not just in the physical sense but in how I handle everything that life throws my way. Art has been both my refuge from reality and a way for me to develop a more nuanced view of the world and all the people in it.
I’ve come to believe that though I am just one (rather tiny!) person, I can make a difference in my own way. This holiday season, I’d like to ask you all to think about the places that educated you, shaped the way you think, brought a smile to your face and made you feel good about your life. Choose to give to them, and it will be the best gift you can imagine.
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