Best gift isn't found under Christmas tree

 (This editorial first appeared in The People-Sentinel Dec. 17, 2008)

"(It's) the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys."
- Ebenezer Scrooge's nephew, on Christmas

Every year it happens. In fact, it's the one moment that defines Christmas in different ways for each of us.

We look forward to it with anticipation - some anxiety even - and hope the moment lives up to our expectations.

We are talking about the moment when we get that one special gift for which we have been longing. Perhaps we had an inkling about its arrival, or maybe it came as a full surprise because we thought its expense was beyond the capacity of our own personal Santa to provide.

No - this isn't about the best gift you ever received.

It's about the best gift you ever gave.

Maybe it was a lavish gift, a "wishful thinking" desire that a friend or relative voiced, but not in a tone or attitude that expected such a wish to be granted by any person or power outside of the North Pole.

Maybe the gift was small, but in an intuitive way, the gift-giver keyed in on its need in the daily life of the recipient - new replacements for the trusty but worn-out bedroom slippers; the new kitchen cookware set to replace the mismatched, annoying pots and pans the recipient had been using.

What made that the best gift you ever gave was the fact you hit it on the mark and met a need and just didn't add to a person's clutter. (When Christmas shopping, how many times have you seen the gifts that were created strictly to fulfill the holiday obligation of gift-giving - such as for the office party or the "white elephant" gift for the church or social group. Pen and pencil sets and desktop digital clocks live for such moments of insincerity.)

The best gift you can give? How about one that meets a need?

Meeting needs doesn't stop with people, it starts with them.

In Barnwell County, there are many needs. Behind those needs are real people with wants that can hardly be considered "wishing thinking" desires such as a warm meal, decent clothing or heat within a house.

Demands at area food banks have been rising for canned goods and other foodstuffs as the national economy has been sinking.

The Secret Santa program each year always has more children than sponsors who can provide Christmas magic through a wanted toy or item.

A different need, but just as personal is blood. Each holiday season, as people travel more, invariably traffic wrecks and accidents occur, increasing the daily demand hospitals have on its blood supplies. The need of blood banks and hospitals is not one that can be fulfilled with a signed check.

The best gift you can give? How about yourself - or your time?

There are many nonprofit civic and service groups that need helping hands always. There's also lonely people who just simply need the gift of you - your attention, your companionship.

The best gift you could ever give?