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What My Nana Taught Me About Great Gift Giving

This is what truly makes great Christmas gifts.
At first glance, one of my most treasured gifts looks just like a stack of old mail. The corners are bent, some of the ink is smudged, and the envelopes bear the hallmarks of a journey halfway across the country. To some, it looks like junk. To me, it looks like love.

As a homesick college freshman, I craved the comfort and familiarity of home, and this is exactly what these letters from my Nana gave me. They were just what I needed. She knew this, of course. She always knew important things like this. Nana was a woman who would do anything for her family, and I was often the grateful and happy recipient of her lavish love.

Growing up, my favorite two weeks of the year were the two weeks that we spent at Nana and Pop-Pop’s house over summer vacation. After the long drive from Chicago to New Jersey, we would arrive at their house to be greeted by the smell of freshly cooked bacon (my brother’s favorite), a cold bottle of Juicy Juice in the refrigerator, and one of Nana’s great big hugs. We would race up the stairs to find the surprise she had put in our room — always a pack of watermelon Bubblicious on our pillows and either an I Spy or Where’s Waldo book on our bedspreads. From the second we walked in her door, Nana made us feel special.

And that’s exactly how she made me feel my freshman year of college. Each week, she sent me a letter. Some were written on plain notepaper, some on stationery, and some on greeting cards she had purchased at the store. Some were longer than others, and some even included a little gift. For Valentine’s Day, it was a box of candy hearts. During finals, it was some cash for a pizza or a movie during a study break.

It didn’t matter whether Nana wrote about the details of a recent trip to the grocery store or Pop-Pop’s baseball practice, because while the content of her letters may have varied, the message was always the same. She was thinking of me, and she loved me. Without fail, she sent me a letter every single week until she passed away during December of my sophomore year; and while Nana may be gone, these written testaments of her love remain.

All in all, Nana wrote me 45 letters. That’s 45 times she picked up a pen, took out a piece of paper, and sat down at her desk to tell me she loved me; 45 times my day was made by opening my mailbox to be greeted by the sight of her small and knobby handwriting; 45 smiles that she alone put on my face; 45 gifts that are positively priceless.

As we contemplate our Christmas lists and race to find the perfect gifts for the people on them, let’s stop to consider what makes a gift truly great in the first place. It’s not how expensive it is, it’s not how exclusive it is, and it’s certainly not how popular it is. None of this really matters in the long run. It’s the way it makes the recipient feel — treasured, special, and loved.

Set your sights on something better, something more personal. Consider what will have the most meaningful and enduring impact. Perhaps it’s that long-distance phone call you’ve been meaning to make. Maybe it’s the lunch date you simply haven’t had time to plan. It might even be a few simple sentences committed to paper, signed with love and stamped with care.

Really, the best gift you can give is that of yourself. When it comes right down to it, that’s all people really want anway: precious, irreplaceable, wonderful you.

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