‘Tis the Season of Giving

With Christmas just around the corner, my mind goes quite naturally to gift-giving.  With layoffs extant in these united states and the economy in a little bit of trouble, there are many who might feel the pain of not being able to give as much as they have always done so in the past.  However, give-giving should never become material objects only.  There are some things one might give that have no financial tag to them, but are wealthy beyond compare.  For instance, there is the gift of one’s time.  My daughter has just had a baby and one of my gifts to her (which she considers invaluable beyond compare) is being here with her as she recovers from birth and becomes used to having a new member of the family.  In this material age, we sometimes forget that the most valuable gifts of all are not ones that money can buy.  Some things are simply precious.  So I thought I’d take you on a journey today into the realm of the American Indian and what has been considered gifts that simply cannot be bought, traded or sold.

In the days of old, before the white man came to this country and influenced the American Indian into other traditions, giving was a point of survival.  No chief could become chief who did not give to the needy and the less well to do.  Often the chief of the tribe was the poorest person in the tribe because he gave away almost all that he had.  However, contrary to a more socialist point of view, this was not pure socialism, because the giving was never regulated and never mandatory.  (Compare that to our income tax system.)  Only the strong, the wise and the kind-hearted could be counted on to give, and it was considered one of the most aspired-to attributes.

Actually, it requires a bit of mind change to grasp the American Indian idea of giving.  If a man attained a higher state or did some great deed, he was not given something by the tribe, but rather, he gave gifts to others.  If a woman attained some desired state (a young girl attaining puberty for instance — or an older woman  attaining praise for her handicraft) she and her relatives worked night and day to give gifts to others.  An example of this might be this:  Say it is your birthday, but instead of you getting gifts on your birthday, you and your relatives would work for months and months in order to have a feast, where one would give to the community in celebration of something one attained.  This was considered the highest honor one might place upon a family member. 

This tradition is still carried on in Native America today.  When a family wishes to honor one of its own, members of the family will work for months and months (sometimes years) to produce goods, not for oneself, but to give away to others — in honor of the family member.  Here again we have an example of giving something that cannot be measure in terms of finance.  The gift of caring, the gift of giving of oneself and one’s time.

The gifts in Native America weren’t wrapped.  Sometimes the gifts were simply in the form of food or clothing or blankets.  Sometimes, in the case of a marriage or some other big event, items such as a tepee were given away (remember Dances With Wolves and the tepee the star of the movie was given?)  When one couldn’t give because one didn’t have the wherewithal to do so, one sometimes still gave what one had by simply giving things that one already had.  That way such articles were kept afloat in the society.  Sometimes one gave the very best thing that he treasured most, especially so if there were a sickness in the family and one wanted to ensure their beloved one’s  recovery.  Sometimes the gift came in the form of service to one’s people.  Certain societies had stringent rules about bundles or other sacred items and most people didn’t want the responsibility of taking care of these items (such as becoming a bundle holder.)  In this case the gift would be in the form of the entire family taking on the responsibility, in order to preserve the spiritual traditions of the people. 

This picture was taken, by the way, at Patricia’s give-away — Patricia is in the middle, although the blond lady’s name is also Pat.  It was considered a real gift of giving if one gave in such a way that the other person didn’t feel they had to return the favor.  This happened to George Catlin in the 1830’s when a young warrior gave back to him a diary that Catlin had lost.  The giving was done in such a way that Catlin was unable to give-back, since he was embarking upon a ship.  This is another example of a self-less gift.   There is yet another example of giving by the American Indian comes to us from the Iroquois.  The Iroquois (which was composed of originally 5 tribes and eventually 6) had a system of government that was truly Of the people, For the people, and By the people.  Men served and were never permitted to draw any kind of pay for serving — it was simply considered their duty and their way of giving to the the tribe.  Such service is still in operation today.

I’d like to disagree with corporate Ameria for a moment if I might.  I think the most potent gifts are those that one cannot measure by physical universe means.  When my kids were growing up, they used to give me coupons for Christmas — I still have them to this day — little chores they would do for me upon presentation of the coupon.  I guess the point is that one can always give something of themselves to another.  And indeed, despite the decay of the material world around us, this is often the most beautiful gift that one might give, something that those who seek pleasure through material gain might might never come to know.

 And here’s the most beautiful gift of all — something that those who crave material wealth over all else will never understand nor will they ever receive this gift (though some might pretend an affection) — the gift of love — true love.   No gold, no silver, can ever replace these gifts, since they have their roots in one’s heart and one’s nature.

For my own part, I would like to make this wish for all mankind at this season:  That the reasons for war — and the profit received from war — will perish from this earth.  That true giving and true wealth (not gold or silver or the FRN — Federal Reserve Note — the dollar bill) will come to those who understand why these things are more important than anything material in this world.

Also, before I leave you for today, let me remind you  that I have two books that are still out on the shelves.  And SENECA SURRENDER is also available in hardcover at Rhapsody Book Club.   So come on in to the blog today and let’s chat.  What’s the most wonderful gift you have ever given — or received?  Let’s talk.

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KAREN KAY aka GEN BAILEY is the multi-published author of American Indian Historical Romances. She has written for such prestigious publishers as AVON/HarperCollins, Berkley/Penguin/Putnam and Samhain Publishing. KAREN KAY’S great grandmother was Choctaw Indian and Kay is honored to be able to write about the American Indian Culture.
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23 thoughts on “‘Tis the Season of Giving”

  1. Karen, one of the most meaningful gifts I received was a quilt. The top had been stitched together by my grandmother on one side and my great-grandmother on the other. They were neighbors long before they were in-laws. My sister quilted it and my mother gave it to me at Christmas. Just wonderful to have all those generations involved.

    Thanks so much for the insights. I have been posting ways to think about giving this month on my FB page…going to link your post!

    Peace, Julie

  2. What a great thought, thank you Karen.
    When I was 14 I was given a gift that changed my life. Two weeks after my mom passed away and just weeks before Christmas, our phone rang. Weeks before I had fallen in love with a half starved Arabian mare. The person on the other end of the phone asked me if I still wanted that horse. I explained that I didn’t have the money to buy her. He cleared his throat and said, “No, we’re giving her to you. Can we bring her today?”
    Of course I said yes. She arrived, nearly starved to death, shaggy and needing a friend.
    blessings,
    brenda

  3. Congratulations on the beautiful grandchild, Kay. And yes, this is a very touching post. And Brenda, what a woanderful post. So glad you found your frirend! oxox

    My favorite gifts: when we received news on Christmas Eve (30 years ago!) that our newborn daughter would fully recover from the meningitis that assailed her.

    …The replica Barbie doll my kids got mt last Christmas…just like the one I got when I was little–Barbie’s first year out. I was in tears.

    Thanks, Kay, for a great start to the day and the reminders of what is real and meaningful. oxoxox

  4. Very thought-provoking post, Kay. The best gift I ever got was when I was six years old. A few weeks before Christmas my dad got burned really bad in a construction fire. We didn’t know if he’d make it or not and I was terrified to think of life without my dad. Finally on Christmas Eve he turned the corner and we knew he wasn’t going to die. I remember sobbing with joy and giving thanks to God for the miracle. I’ll never forget that time as long as I live.

  5. Wonderful post as usual, Karen.
    We have done the “certificate” thing at our house, too. When my husband came home form his second or third tour in Vietnam, I had a jar of “LOVE NOTES” for him. They could be redeemed for hugs, a special meal, all sorts of things. We have given our children such IOU’s too, when there is something they want to do or someplace to go. We started with our grandparents many years ago. They had all they needed, so we would usually take the kids and fill a big box with grocery staples. Along with the card would be a note promising to shovel snow, take them shopping, or whatever. For birthdays and Easter, we would usually do the same. We have always believed a gift of your time and effort is more important than any other you can give. That call every week or few days just to say Hi and check on them is most welcomed. I am always amazed at people that live in the same town do not keep in touch with their elderly relatives and neighbors. When we are far away, other than to make certain they have what they need, calling is all we can do. It takes such little effort and time and means so much to those who are alone.

    I am so glad you are able to spend the time with your daughter and her family. I know she must appreciate it greatly. Newborns are such precious little beings. Your help, especially at this time of the year is the best gift you could have give her and her family. Enjoy the rest of your stay with them and have a wonderful Christmas holiday.

  6. A truly lovely post. I totally agree with everything you said and yet I still struggle with myself. I’ve always overgiven at Christmas time because it was the one time of year that I could really splurge. My children are grown and are always telling me what you just said, so the problem is with me. I feel disappointed and this is something I just have to work on.

    How wonderful to have a new grandchild. My daughter moved near me so hopefully in a few years they too will be blessed and I have happily volunteered to babysit since they both have to keep working:)

    As always, we all have a lot to learn from the American Indians’ way of life. It’s truly a more noble way of living!

  7. it is hard to wrap one’s mind around how freely the native americans gave
    quite a switch from our society
    but amazing

    my best gift
    probably when my best friend died (he happened to be a dog but he was truly my soul mate)
    my husband put together a book of pictures of him and i and got all my family members to write down their special memories of he and i
    he also included some beautiful poems
    it was a wonderful gift that i will treasure forever

  8. A beautiful post… I am one that likes to make gifts for others… taking the time to create something for someone else always uplifts my spirits…
    Have a wonderful holiday season!

  9. Loved this poat and am enjoying all of the comments. I, too love making things for people. As I work I pray for that person. I also pray for the person I shop for.
    My best gift is hard to come up with, but I think the Spitz cookies my husband made for me for Valentine’s Day one year. The first valentine I ever got from him was with some spritz that his mom had made and 40 plus years later he spent the day baking some for me. I had never seen him bake before so it was a special surprise.

  10. Thank you, Patricia. I loved your story of your husband and the notes, as well as your elderly parents.

    It is true that we need to be with our elders more. Also think our elders have much to give our younger generation. What a waste of resources to put our elders in homes. Makes me sad.

  11. Hi Catslady!

    Like you I usually over spend at Christmas time. I’ve always loved watching the faces of my children at Christmas — and then the faces of my husband and relatives.

    But this Christmas the finances are just too stretched — so it has to be a little different this year.

    Thanks so much for your thoughts.

  12. Oh, my gosh, Tabitha, what a touching story. I’m sitting here again with tears in my eyes.

    I know you’ll treasure that gift more than anything. And I know that you know the best gifts just rarely have anything to do with money.

    Thanks.

  13. Hello Colleen!

    I think this is wonderful. My youngest daughter, like you, thinks that the best gifts are homemade and so she struggles to create her own gifts — something we all appreciate.

  14. Hi Loretta!

    Thank you for your post. I, too, have been sitting here with tears in my eyes. I have loved each and every post today, and I feel blessed that everyone took the time to share their most treasured moment with me.

    This means a lot to me!

  15. Beautiful post, Kay. One of the most meaningful gifts I’ve ever received is the gift of time, when my parents stepped in and helped with the kids so I could write. My husband has given me that gift as well. Hugs to you!

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