Monday, December 7, 2009

The Material of Giving

'Tis the Season for Luxury. Oh yes, in yesterday's The New York Times T Magazine, the editors suggest a bit of lace. I think it is absolutely incredible--a museum piece--the dress they show. However, it's $16,000+ price tag did take me back more than a bit. Imagine all the bits of lace one can give for Christmas for that price. Might one get a lace car, for example?

And then there was the plain sweater, a straight knit affair that we who can make needles sing might whip off in a couple of days with maybe $100 of the best yarn we can find. Well, you can buy the sweater shown for a mere $1,600. I do believe that there is something to see the best in design and materials. And for those of you who can afford such price tags, perhaps it's just fine to indulge and keep the high-enders in business so they may continue to be an inspiration to the rest of us. It's an age-old dilemma. Must admit I almost ran to the needles--but I have a cardinal rule which I learned from an old Cathy cartoon strip: Never start knitting the first week of December! Bless that girl.

So, it's also the season to access our luxuries. Is there a bit of lace to add to a lovely wool or silk scarf, even one you might be passing along? Is there a bit of treasure in the china or linen closet that will bring tears of joy to a friend or family member? Is there an ornament that you probably wouldn't buy for your own tree, but will make a friend smile when they hang it on their own year after year, thinking of you? This year, I am giving my friend Lisa a wedding cake ornament that I just couldn't resist. She was married earlier this year. It is absolutely lovely, handmade, and was a bit expensive.

Far be it for me to suppress the spirit of giving. I'm just thinking of all the very personal ways we can gift. Let me tell you about one such present I received a few years ago: When I was in Copenhagen with my family--our son was on business--I visited the writer Karen Blixen's house on the sea. It was a short train ride from the center of the city. Karen Blixen is more commonly known as the writer Isak Dinesen, who gave us the incomparable Out of Africa. (Her life was the basis for the Meryl Streep film.) I was amazed at the art gallery at the house, works by Dinesen when she was struggling to become an artist. I fell in love with her work and snapped up a bunch of postcards depicting it which I sent from the hotel the next day. This was in the summer. That Christmas, one of my long-time neighbors presented me with a little music box. I recognized the image on the top and it puzzled me for a minute. Was this not one of Dinesen's paintings? Indeed it was. As the events started coming together in my mind, I turned the box over and found the postage stamp that had been on postcard. Later I found out that, my friend had found an old music box at a sale that just fit the post card. She assembled the gift that is one of the most precious and thoughtful I have ever received.

Do you have a gift of hand and heart you'd like to share with us?


  1. As always, Nancy, you're perfectly in sync with the times and the hearbeat of those of us that sit, year-round, with our chairs facing Christmas! My daughter, who is a masters student (read: no money) routinely charms everyone in the family by writing whimsical, well-crafted stories. These stories go from year to year, sometimes, and my children and I just adore them. We beg her for more. While they don't come gift-wrapped, they are so meaningful to us because we can see her, scribbling away, Jo-like, in her attic, in order to have them ready by Christmas morning.
    My knitty daughter made wrist-warmers last year (she, unlike Cathy, DID start in Dec and was frantically knitting at midnight on Christmas Eve!), I wear them still with pride. My son now bakes for me; he's a cook and aspiring chef. We're big fans of the homemade Christmas and have been for years. For me, it's not Christmas without our Pecan Rum Ring, a baked good that the children eat while opening presents. They claim they'd rather have that, and stockings full of goodies, than piles of gifts!
    Thanks for another inspiring post, dear Nancy!
    Love, Karen Marline

  2. Hello Nancy. Nice post. One very poor Christmas, I wrote letters to people close to me, telling them what I thought was special about them and what I loved about them. I scrolled the letters, added a simple ribbon, and gave them out. Well, one uncle, God rest his soul, loved that present. My aunt said he kept the letter, long after Christmas passed, in a drawer near his bed and read it often! She said he thought it was one of the most special things anyone ever gave him. It makes my eyes fill with tears to think of it, since he has gone to the other side of life, now. From poverty (that year), came a gift that was quite priceless. Sincerely, Susan from

  3. Alas, I must not have seen the Cathy comic strip because I started knitting a sweater for a friend on December 1st. I nearly finished with one arm to go when I ran out of yarn and discovered it had been discontinued (prior to internet search engines and eBay). I wrapped it up and gave it to my friend anyway with a note explaining I would either make her a new one or somehow find the yarn. The sweater was never completed and I eventually cast on with something else but it didn’t prevent my friend from showing up at my New Year’s Eve party with her bare arm sticking out of the cardigan. We had a good laugh at that. Next year, the sweater came back to me as a Christmas gift. This time in the form of a scarf, hat and mittens.


  4. When I was teeneager, my grandmother give me all her time for the confection of a dress like Laura in «The little house on the prairie»: my Christmas present.

    I was in love with this dress who was real popular in my school.

    QUébec City

    Thirty years later, I always keep it preciously.

  5. When I was three years old, my parents hit a rough spot in their marriage and each went home to live with their respective parents for a fall and winter. Christmas arrived, as it does, in the middle of that mixed-up time. That year, I wanted a "drum majorette doll" for Christmas, but there was little money. Somehow there was one under the tree for me on Christmas morning and I was delighted with her. Her dress was white satin, with a red bolero and her cap was red and white, too. I seem to recall gold braid, and white boots. She was my favorite doll for years, and she held a place of honor in what eventually became a collection of dolls from other countries and cultures.

    When I was a teenager, I learned that "Karen," as I called my drum majorette, had been a doll given to me when I was much younger (and forgotten). My mother, pressed for money, hid the doll away sometime that fall. She shopped for piece of red and white satin and little white boots and created a costume, sewing nights in the bathroom when the entire household (my grandmother, her mother and my aunt) were asleep. She transformed a castoff into a little girl's dream, even trimming and curling her hair and lacquering it into place.

    The following spring, my parents reunited and we spent summer on the bay. "Karen" came with me and had a place of honor on a shelf in my tiny bedroom.

  6. Mimi, what a charming story! I'm so glad you shared it here. What a loving thing for your mother to do!
    Warmly, Karen (not a majorette) Marline

  7. Thanks, Karen Marline. Karen was my favorite name when I was little! I have read similar stories in magazine collections over the years. So very many loving mothers out there...