I'M AT A crafts shop and I'm looking at the works of art in the display cabinet. There's a very expensive handmade necklace of sterling. It looks like a string of ordinary paper clips, but of course they aren't ordinary.
The necklace is giving me a kind of deja vu.
What does it remind me of? Why does it look familiar? It reminds me of a Christmas past.
I flash back to a Christmas right after the Depression when things were simple, things were sparse. Things were probably difficult for my parents. There wasn't enough money.
It was the Christmas my brother and I made paper clip necklaces and tie clasps for everyone in the family. Mother loved hers -- hers was longer. That was the same Christmas mother knit us sweaters. But she didn't knit very well, and we all laughed at the many dropped stitches. But we never laughed the wrong way, because it was Christmas and it was a precious time. That Christmas we got oranges and tangerines and homemade hTC candy. I don't remember toys. But we were together and there was simple joy.
The sterling silver necklace will go to someone with a lot of money, probably to someone who has never seen a real paper clip necklace, and that's their loss. I guess you have to have been there to like something so unadorned. For me it would be a reminder of humbler times when Christmas was less convoluted.
Three of my friends are out of jobs. One is a single mother who has been out of work for six months. Lower class, middle class -- the recession is classless -- joblessness has no social boundaries this year.
My husband remembers the Christmas of 1933 when they moved to a small dust bowl Texas town. They got a cow for Christmas so they could have the milk. He remembers that Christmas as fun. His mother made all their presents, and each child got one gift. He said there was laughter and music.
A friend of mine says one Christmas they were so poor that their mother asked them to make a hand-decorated Christmas card for each family member describing the love they felt for one another. She remembers it as being one of the best of times. Devoid of frills.
From the '50s to the '80s Christmas has been over- merchandised, over-commercialized and blown out of proportion -- giving us a sense of materialism that has widened the gap between the haves and the have-nots. When Christmas becomes a business, expectations are seldom met anyway.
And now we see in this recession that old montage of Depression Christmases where thousands were hungry and jobless. Back then they, too, stood in lines for food, some went door-to-door.
For those who have lost their jobs, for those who are hungry, homeless, Christmas may seem shallow this year.
It is one thing to be out of a job, but it's another to be out of hope.
But wait, there's a lesson to be learned. From those recently released hostages who endured mental and physical pain, torture and deprivation, we see an example of self-reliance, courage and endurance: that the human body and the spirit are both miracles, as is faith.
Perhaps less -- paper clip necklaces, homemade cards -- will help us to return to the true message of Christmas -- that of expectation, love and above all hope.