Oprah Winfrey sang and clapped when presented with the $69 lunch box that made her 2017 “Favorite Things” list.
“I looooove!” she belted out in mock falsetto.
She didn’t need to finish her sentence by naming the object of her love. It is expansive, and today, in a video of the selection process for her biggest gift guide, it covers 102 items, totaling $13,400 in value and ranging from a $2,000 Samsung high-definition 55-inch TV down to a $10 earbud case.
“People spend the best years of their lives either trying to untangle their charger cords or track down missing earbuds,” Oprah quips in the December issue of her magazine, O, which pictures all her favorite things. They include a $600 espresso maker, a $200 bird house, a $200 automated dog bone and a $250 “lip vault” by Ulta containing 25 tubes of “lip mousse.” Oprah claims to have ordered them “for every woman I know.” Incidentally, they were sold out before Thanksgiving.
There’s plenty of warm — like the fuzzy buffalo plaid on slippers, shirts, pajamas, blankets and boots – and the frivolous, like $50 blueberries. “My new definition of everyday luxury,” Oprah writes, “a 5-pound box of organic wild blueberries frozen within 24 hours of harvest from Josh Pond Farm in Maine.”
It seems every so-called “influencer” now curates a gift guide if, for nothing else, than the kickback from Amazon affiliate links. Online shoppers take the expert’s word, making transactions that require a nanosecond of engagement. And so goes the drumbeat of commercialism: more, more, more.
All the while, we Christians are called to answer Advent’s hushed invitation for less, less, less; to clear out our closets and turn off our phones, to resist the click-and-procure in favor of the wait-and-wonder. What a challenge it is to make space for the other, for the divine. Filling ourselves sets off all our bells and whistles, while emptying requires discernment and allows for quiet.
Americans prefer the former. We have so much self-storage space, the Self Storage Association once pointed out, that it is physically possible every American could stand at the same time under the canopy of self-storage roofing.
I’ve been reflecting on the art of gift giving — what it can do for us, at its best, and what it neglects to do, at its hastiest. The more you put in, the more you get out.
My neighbor recently showed me her favorite Christmas picture book, Holly Hobbie’s 2007 charmer, “Toot & Puddle: Let It Snow,” in which a pair of best friends — who happen to be pigs — struggle to determine the perfect gifts for each other. Puddle labors in his attic, painting an image of the twosome in the woods. Toot, meanwhile, spends “every spare minute in his workshop in the basement” building a sled on wheels — one that will work with or without snow.
“He knew that the best present was usually something you made yourself, a one-of-a-kind thingamajig, not just a whatsit anyone could buy in a store,” Hobbie writes.
Indeed, the sweetest gifts require a commodity more precious than treasure: time. That’s the gift my mom extends to me every day with her availability and assistance, delighting in the giving, expecting nothing in return. Time is the resource we try to circumvent with apps and outsourcing, but it can never be replicated.
If you want Advent to remake your heart — to stretch it out like pizza dough and squish it back into something soft and supple — you must make the time for real giving, for glitter and glue and hours and minutes. Leave the lip vault to Oprah.
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