Greetings from the Eastern Syndicate Racket

This weekend, I did some holiday shopping I wasn't planning to do. You see, in November we all took a big trip for my mother's sixtieth birthday, and, as the result of the expenses of the trip, we decided not to give each other gifts for Christmas. But when December arrived, my mother and I began to hedge. It feels so strange not to give each other anything on Christmas, we agreed. How about a ten-dollar gift each?

I don't know whether this agreement was made in good faith because, as you know, it's damn near impossible to buy anything for $10 these days. So maybe we crept up a little closer to twenty. Or over. But still under forty. At least for now. You see what I mean?

I actually wish for Christmas we could just have dinner at the table and have a sustained conversation, each of us asking the others genuine questions about our lives and activities and attentively listening to the replies instead of getting sucked into television and football games and tabloid magazines scattered about. Maybe that is the emptiness I feel that I must fill by giving gifts. Maybe I've been conditioned all these years that the true way to tell someone you care about them is to spend countless hours finding the perfect present.

But perfect gifts sometimes come in small packages, or not even wrapped at all. Even though there will be some crumpled gift wrap on the floor after it's all said and done, each of us flush with something plastic or woven or printed that we didn't really need, the best gift is that my family will be together and we'll be healthy, that no one is alone in a nursing home or hospital or separated by great distances physical and emotional. Who knows how many years of these holidays you're gifted? And each one, in so many different ways, is priceless.