Gifts Don’t Need Wires to be Meaningful

Columnist Len Bourland
Columnist Len Bourland

It’s that time again to try to be imaginative while also trying often to [fake] serenity because it’s the holidays — which for some inexplicable reason is also associated with “peace on Earth.”

At my age, I don’t have to be politically correct, so it’s just plain Christmas. Even for non-Christians there are parties, decorations, gift-giving, and a certain levity, a respite from the nonstop gruel of elections, radicalism, pandemics, and market panics that saturate the news.

I remember thinking after the first wave of Ebola hysteria hit that I was relieved when the newscasters got back to garden-variety murders in Chicago and extreme weather. Phew. No hazmat suit needed. My own Christmas wish-list includes a vaccine for enterovirus and Ebola, politicians who are courteous statesmen, and a decline in traffic. I can dream, can’t I? I’ll settle for a nice dinner with all my extended family around me, and that’s not an easy thing to arrange, either.

So what can I think up for my umpteenth year of gift-giving that can show some originality? I don’t do malls or much online shopping, so I’ll probably opt for gift cards or family membership to one of our great museums. Charitable donation cards have long replaced dropping off homemade goodies to friends and neighbors, but I am still in awe of those who do.

Last year, rather than give four precious granddaughters yet another box to open, ooh-and-aah over, and then promptly forget, I went for the experiential — not just for them, but for me. These little preschoolers don’t see each other often enough and I rarely get them all together. Within minutes, any home they are in looks like a bomb went off, with princess costumes, dolls, blocks, and games strewn all over.

So I hired an art instructor to open her studio for an hour or so of art projects the day after Christmas, with their creations as their gift. I loved observing them, photographing them, and not having to do the baking, paints, or mess, and clean up. My joy was watching them build memories.

That’s not always going to happen, given geographic distances and ages. Maybe a trip sometime? Some Christmases are technology or appliance years: new televisions, computers, phones, or whatever the next techie thing is. Remember Palm Pilots, DVD players, clock radios, electric football, and Intellivision?

Invariably anything that has batteries or needs to plugged in or hooked up or involves an instruction booklet — there’s always a fun Christmas morning game you can experience together. Manualese is a language that resembles the syntax of Chinese or Swedish that was probably where the actual product was manufactured, which was then translated by a bureaucrat for whom English was a second language. It’s inscrutable.

This great parlor game of Manualese involves the whole family on Christmas morning, while some grimly smiling adult is trying to assemble the new home theater or set up the new stereo system (or almost anything that requires many, many remotes and manuals). Here’s how to play: Assemble as many manuals as you can, and round up and call out some quotes to see if anyone can figure out which technological device it relates to.

One other piece of advice: don’t even think about trying to read a computer manual on Christmas Day for actual information. This could lead to depression, temper tantrums, and indigestion, if not outright heart pain. Just call a teenager later and curl up with a good novel and some eggnog by the fire or play Candy Land with the little ones.

By the end of December, nobody will be able to recall the presents as much as the intensity of the season. But considering it’s for the most important people in our lives, it’s worth the effort and excess. (Peace on Earth.)

Len Bourland

The views expressed by columnist Len Bourland are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of People Newspapers. Email Len at

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