I must confess that I can be a Scrooge about gift-giving during the holiday season. The experience too often seems unnecessary, out of proportion, or ironically competitive to me. It’s not that I do not appreciate a well-intended present (the giving as well as the receiving) or that we do not exchange gifts at our house. In fact, our daughters received much more this Christmas than anyone could say was necessary.
Nevertheless, I was struck this year by some loving magi’s present to our daughters that was an unexpected hit. This gift was not very expensive, flashy, or new. It was a working Polaroid-style camera, complete with film and accessories. When the girls opened it, I expected them to dismiss the item and move on. Instead, their eyes widened with excitement, and they immediately set the camera up and got busy figuring out how it worked. They then proceeded to take pictures of essentially anything and everything in sight. I love how you can tell from the pictures which of our three children took each one, based on the height and vantage point of the camera.
To be clear, these are not quality photographs. They are grainy and washed out, with details difficult to decipher, as the girls took no time to ask anyone to pose for them. As a result, the pile of Polaroids on our coffee table gives the impression that some crime has been committed and these photographs are all we have to conduct the investigation with.
This being the age of smartphones and Instagram, it was not as if our daughters had never had the opportunity to take pictures. The value of the experience to them appeared to stem from the honesty and verisimilitude inherent in these photographs, as well as the vulnerable familial moments they portray. The best photos from the day, taken together, have left us with a very real and honest record of Christmas at this specific time and place in our lives. Their value far exceeds that of any portrait we could put online or sent to loved ones.
The magi are among us. They cannot always know the value of the gifts they bring. However, I would like to point out that the human spirit has a way of finding humble, authentic ways to discover connections among people and to record those connections over time and space.