Gifts come in all kinds of packages

raysofbeautybybrucestambaugh

By Bruce Stambaugh

In case you haven’t noticed, it’s the gift-giving season again. I think the TV commercials started just after Labor Day.

If you follow their lead, it’s spend, spend, spend to please your loved one with just the right gift. That certainly might help the economy, but not your budget. It doesn’t have to be that way. Gifts don’t need to be expensive to be appreciated. In fact, they don’t even need to be purchased. Please note I am not endorsing shoplifting as an option.

Gifts come in all kinds of packages. The most precious don’t need to be unwrapped. We just need to be alert enough to recognize them when they surreptitiously present themselves.

smilesallaroundbybrucestambaugh
Pick your smile.

A friend recently shared that she smiled at a stranger in a store. The man, who could have qualified in age as her grandfather, walked away, stopped and returned to her. He told my friend that her smile had made his day, and he wanted to thank her for her thoughtfulness. He said he seldom sees people smile any more. I thought that a perfect example of the kind of gift giving that really counts. The young woman was so impressed with the man’s comments that she eagerly shared the encounter with others. I hope the man passed his gratitude on with a smile of his own.

If we listen to the seasonal marketing hype, Advent is more corporate than celestial. Of course, if we take my friend’s approach, it doesn’t have to be that way.

The gifts enjoyed most happen freely everyday.

A recent sunrise was a thing to behold. Thick clouds covered the rising sun, yet bands of rays somehow squeezed through and fanning out to create an incredible heavenly display.

redbreastednuthatchbybrucestambaughLater that morning a Red-breasted Nuthatch snatched seeds precision like from pinecones my wife had gathered and placed in a bowl to decorate an old wash bench on the back porch. The little bird was too quick for my camera.

Later that evening, we sat around the dining room table exchanging touching stories with trusted and trusting friends. We lamented and laughed at our common situations. Unwavering, lifetime friendship is a priceless gift.

The perfect gift also could be something as simple as discovering your driver’s license is about to expire. The startling realization turned out to be a rich blessing. I rushed to the license bureau where the employees had just dealt with a pretty crusty customer. Not to be distracted from their normal good humor, they treated me like a king, and I walked away with a new license and an uplifted spirit.

At the doctor’s office, I meet an acquaintance I only see on occasion. We talked until I was called in for my appointment. Good thing, too, or we’d still be talking. You know how men are.

sunsetflyoverbybrucestambaughI received a card with a hand written note of appreciation from a friend. It was given for the sole purpose of expressing gratitude for our friendship. I placed the note where I can see it every morning.

A day ended with the sun showing its artistic ability. As a flock of Canada Geese flew overhead, a palette of pastels filled the evening sky. It was another fleeting and inspiring gift that cost only the time to notice.

At this special time of year, what are some of the gifts that you have received that you didn’t have to unwrap? Better still, what are some that you will give?

© Bruce Stambaugh 2012

Gift giving doesn’t have to be expensive

Christmas by Bruce Stambaugh
By Bruce Stambaugh

In the blink of an eye, Thanksgiving has come and gone. So too have Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Christmas and New Year’s Day soon will be upon us.

It’s not like the holidays are magically appearing. To be sure, we already have been overexposed to a much too commercialized Christmas through every form of media. The Christmas creep, as some call it, began in early fall.

Indeed, Christmastime is the gift-giving season. But it appears that buying and spending on everything from Chia pets to Cadillacs is the way to celebrate, if we simply gauge the season by the advertisers.

Christmas gift by Bruce StambaughChristmas is so much more than that. It is the time of thinking of others, and remembering them by giving gifts. That is the universally portrayed holiday procedure. The gift, however, doesn’t have to be opulent or pricy, just appropriate for the person.

I enjoyed an article our daughter shared that poked fun at the extremism of holiday shopping. Entitled “The Best 5 Toys Ever,” the humorous story listed the season’s best toys for children. Instead of the latest electronic game or fancy dollhouse, the author suggested sticks, boxes, string, cardboard tubes and dirt as the top presents for children. Each point was illustrated with a picture of a child having fun with these simple items. To drive home the silliness, a positive and negative remark about each “toy” followed the analysis, just like a review of a real toy.

The sarcastic thrust was that our society often over thinks and certainly over indulges when it comes to giving presents for Christmas. We are lead to believe they come in the form of pretty packages, make noise and create virtual fun.
Sharing by Bruce Stambaugh
Sometimes the most practical item is the most appropriate gift, and hardly costs a thing, other than an investment of time. Take balloons for example.

Our two-year old granddaughter loves balloons. Nana reported that on her last visit to Virginia, Maren’s favorite playtime was spent batting a balloon back and forth. Is there volleyball in her future?

I’m not suggesting you buy nothing for your loved ones this Christmastime. Rather, I’m simply saying that you may not have to break the bank to please them.

Christmas games by Bruce StambaughThe finest gift at Christmas doesn’t have to be the most expensive. It might just be the gift of time. In our hustle, bustle work-a-day world, it’s easy to follow the crowd to the big box store specials. For whatever reason, our society seems to find it unfashionable to spend a little time with one another, just reminiscing, remembering, playing games, and enjoying one another’s company.

Perhaps my reticence toward expensive gift giving is personally tainted by my life’s station. As grandparents, my wife and I are looking to divest ourselves of some of the earthly possessions we once thought precious. We don’t need to add to our already cluttered household hoard.

This Christmas, we will be wrapping our unpretentious presents using boxes and tubes and string. Those necessary items won’t be the gifts themselves. We will try to ignore the barrage of electronic and print suggestions on how to spend our money, and simply embrace our company while we can.

Christmas is just around the corner. I hope you get the opportunity to celebrate its true meaning with those you love. I know the time I spend with my family and friends will be the greatest gift I receive, sticks and string included.
Sled ridding by Bruce Stambaugh

How Amish celebrate the holidays

Amish church by Bruce Stambaugh
Amish on their way to church near Mt. Hope, Ohio. Church was held in a member's home.

By Bruce Stambaugh

The Amish enjoy celebrating the holidays just as much as anyone else. They simply go about it a bit differently.

Defining how the Amish celebrate America’s most time-honored holidays deserves an introductory explanation. The Amish are divided into church groups, usually about 100 persons per church. And by church, they mean fellowship, since they hold church in their homes, shops or barns.

There are actually many different types or orders of Amish. The Swartzentruber Amish are considered to be the lowest order, with the New Order Amish the highest, since they hold Sunday school on the alternate worship Sundays.

Using the terms “lowest” and “highest” is not intended to be derogatory or even hierarchical. It simply is the way it is with the Amish. Those in between are the Old Order, by far the most numerous in among the Amish population. The orders are simply determined by rules of the church leaders.

Clearly, defining the Amish is a lot harder than their simple lifestyles might let on. Nevertheless, they all celebrate the holidays one way or another.

The key to understanding how the Amish do so lies in this understanding. You can’t generalize about the Amish. Their holiday traditions and rituals vary from family to family, church-to-church and sect-to-sect, not much different that any other culture or ethnic group.

Modesty is a major principle in the values of the Amish. That fact can be seen in exactly how the Amish keep the holidays. In living out their faith beliefs, they do so joyously surrounded by food, family and friends.

Here then is an overview of how any given Amish family, save those in the Swartzentruber order, might celebrate the holidays.

Thanksgiving

Most Amish take advantage of this national holiday just the way the rest of the country would. They gather with family, extended family and friends and enjoy turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce, a vegetable and of course dessert, usually homemade pie.

However, instead of breakfast, many of the Amish fast prior to the large noon meal. Fasting is a physical sign of purification in preparation for the celebration.

The lower order Amish, however, have a different take on Thanksgiving. They see it as an opportunity to prepare for the winter months ahead. For them, Thanksgiving is the big hog-butchering day. They’ll save their substantial meal for another later.

Christmas

From the Amish perspective, anyone not Amish is considered “English.” The Amish recognize and respect the “English” demarcation of Christmas on December 25. For them, Christmas is a sacred day in honor of the birth of God’s only son, Jesus Christ. And here again, many, though not all, will fast prior to their family gathering.

Amish actually celebrate Christmas twice, once on the standard date of December 25, and again on January 6, commonly referred to as Old Christmas. In higher religions, that day is known as Epiphany.

Unlike the rest of society that celebrates Christmas, the Amish do not have Christmas trees or decorations. They will, however, burn Christmas candles in honor of the day.

After the usual Christmas meal of turkey or ham and all the trimmings, the Amish will spend the afternoon and evening away playing table games, board games and cards. None of the card games would involve using face cards.

Of course, it wouldn’t be Christmas without gifts and the Amish carry out this tradition of gift giving as well. The gifts will be wrapped, but usually nothing elaborate. Children will receive toys.

Since not all of Amish Country is Amish, the usual holiday decorations and activities occur like in the rest of Christendom. Millersburg, the Holmes County, Ohio seat,  holds a Christmas parade, Santa included, and on December 10 will initiate its first candlelight church walk from 6 to 8 p.m.

Berlin, Ohio, the hub of Amish Country, has a luminary ceremony. Even little Mt. Hope, where mostly Amish live, has a Christmas parade and a live nativity scene. Santa, however, is nowhere to be found.

Old Christmas

Old Christmas harkens back to the change from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar during the latter stages of the Reformation when Pope Gregory XIII switched Christmas to December 25. Out of tradition and reverence for their forefathers, the Amish have continued to honor Christ’s birth on January 6.

Unlike the more jovial December 25 celebrations, Old Christmas is more solemn. It begins with fasting, followed by another typical Christmas meal and some more gift giving. However, the emphasis is on reflecting and visiting as apposed to reveling.

No matter which holiday is being celebrated, family is always an important element in any get-together for the Amish. And that is true for any Amish order.