The approach of Christmas brings harassment and dread to many excellent people. They have to buy a cart-load of presents, and they never know what to buy to hit the various tastes; they put in three weeks of hard and anxious work, and when Christmas morning comes they are so dissatisfied with the result, and so disappointed that they want to sit down and cry. Then they give thanks that Christmas comes but once a year. -- Mark Twain in Following the Equator (1897)
It's that time of year when we feel an unusually generous spirit for giving, often tempered by that old adage, "Objects on your calendar are closer than they appear." Christmas gift-giving can create a combination of joy and stress, but it's the joy we're after. Even Ebenezer Scrooge learned to like that warm and fuzzy feeling created by acts of selflessness, no matter their size, as he promised himself he would "keep Christmas" all year. But perhaps Bill Murray said it best in Scrooged: "For a couple of hours out of the whole year, we are the people that we always hoped we would be."
Yes, that feeling!
There are ways to maintain that generous Christmas feeling even with the fast-approaching gift-giving deadline -- and it can last all year.
Instead of rushing into the crowds only to settle on some generic, non-descript forgettable fad, take a cue from Mark Twain -- Samuel Langhorne Clemens. "The best way to cheer yourself up is to try to cheer somebody else up."
In other words, choose your favorite charity, and give a gift that gives twice by making a donation or establishing a membership on someone's behalf. And if you really insist on buying a gift, most of these organizations have stores, offering another way to support the cause.
Sam and Livy Clemens generously supported many causes including the Hartford orphanage (now the Village for Children and Families), the Chinese Educational Mission, the Connecticut Humane Society, the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the American Anti-Imperialist League, the Society of the Army of the Potomac, the Society of the Army of the Tennessee, New York's Mercantile Library Association, Hartford's Retreat for the Insane (now Institute of Living), and the Decorative Arts Society -- to name just a few.
To borrow from Twain's spirit and help preserve his legacy, consider supporting one of the nonprofit entities that work to keep Twain's memory alive: The Mark Twain House & Museum in Hartford, Connecticut; the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum in Hannibal, Missouri; the Center for Mark Twain Studies in Elmira, New York; and the Mark Twain Papers and Project at The Bancroft Library at UC-Berkeley.
So, instead of giving "thanks that Christmas comes but once a year," indulge in the spirit of giving twice. "Mark Twain" was a river term that meant "mark two" to measure the river's depth in fathoms. Two fathoms -- "mark twain" was to be in safe water -- which had to be a good feeling for steamboatmen like Sam Clemens. And giving a gift that gives twice -- or twain -- is better than a buy one-get one.
And although Mark Twain could sound a little cranky when describing the stress of selecting the perfect gift, he really did possess the Christmas spirit. In a letter to a friend written December 30, 1907, Mark Twain wrote:
The xmas holidays have this high value: that they remind Forgetters of the Forgotten, & repair damaged relationships.
Bill Murray couldn't have said it better.
The nursery at Mark Twain's Hartford house. (photo by Frank C. Grace)
Mark Twain piled up manuscript in this writing study built for him by his wife's family on their farm in Elmira, NY. It is now located at Elmira College. (photo by Cindy Lovell)
At Mark Twain's Hartford home, his wife and daughters prepared Christmas baskets to deliver throughout the area to those less fortunate. Each year the house is decorated using descriptions from letters and other records. (photo by Frank C. Grace)
Sam Clemens lived in Hannibal from the age of 4 to 17 (1839-1853). It was not until later in the 19th century that people began celebrating Christmas in the way we think of today. Mark Twain's earliest references to Christmas are often just calendar references. (photo by Cindy Lovell)
In this room the Clemenses' daughters would gather to play, sing, and even perform plays. When Susy Clemens wrote a letter to Santa, her Papa replied on Santa's behalf - hence the "trunk full of doll's clothes" seen here. (photo by Frank C. Grace)
A scene from Twain's Hartford home where the girls would awaken early and were allowed to open a few gifts left in the schoolroom (photo by Frank C. Grace)
On Christmas Eve, coats were donned, baskets gathered, and the coachman, Patrick, brought the sleigh to the front door. The Clemenses delivered baskets of Christmas cheer to the needy. (photo by Frank C. Grace)
Mark Twain's Hartford home where he and his wife, Livy, raised their three daughters - Susy, Clara, and Jean. In this scene it is easy to imagine the girls coming out to play in the snow.
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