Letter from the Director- Vol 17, Dec 2014: Magical Gifts


Here we are in the thick of the season of present giving. I’m wondering: What is it that makes a gift magical?  From what I can see, the type of gift may vary wildly, in our family at least.

We have a teenager in the family who was thrilled to receive a genuine Gucci handbag from her mother, who makes a modest income running a little barbershop. The price tag was staggering, representing to the teen an obvious sacrifice on the mother’s part.

Our daughter Sandhya, the uber environmentalist, never “shops”. She has given us hand-canned chutneys, jams and olive oil healing balms in the recent past. This Christmas when she comes to the islands to visit, she is giving us the gift of “experience”. For adventurous family members, she plans to rent bikes to go mountain biking together on the North Shore; then she’s taking all of us out to lunch and a farm/smoothie tour at our local Kahuku Farms. We’ll take plenty of mental and actual photos of the trek, with great memories and no physical stuff to store or dust afterwards.

bobq2Our most important gift this year is for the widower of my mother-in-love, SuSu. Bob is currently transitioning over to a senior living facility. He had asked me recently whether I had an old twin-bed sized bedspread in our linen closet, now that he is downsizing to a single twin bed. I decided that Bob needed a hand-made quilt from the whole family. After Thanksgiving dinner, each of us drew a special image for Bob on a block of fabric. Some distant family members had to express-mail theirs. The quilter went into high gear to get it made in time for Christmas delivery. I’ve just received the finished quilt, and wow!  I think we’ve created an heirloom that Bob will treasure!


Our kumu hula Malia often tells her hula halua (school) members that sometimes the best gift we can bring is an oli, a chant, befitting the occasion. Malia once created a singing gift that Marta treasures as her favorite Christmas present ever. Throughout the previous year Malia collected Marta’s salty, irreverent pronouncements during staff meetings. Malia collated these original quotations into a customized version of the 12 Days of Christmas, which we all sang to Marta at our staff holiday party. The language is a little too “colorful” for me to reprint here! Why did Marta love that gift so much? It represented a non-judgemental “I really get who you are and I love you” message from Malia and the rest of us to Marta, and that meant so much.

Sometimes the best gift for my mom is NOTHING! Mom is the original Scrooge about receiving gifts – but because her heart is too large, not too small!  When she sees a tree piled with presents up past the first and second levels of branches, the decadence of all those commercial purchases for people who already have so much always makes her think of the starving children in Africa and Asia. She and I have an agreement that I never give her a gift unless and until I find something that I’m sure she will love – it’s almost always a handmade piece of art or clothing, which directly supports the livelihood of an artisan. It looks as if she’ll probably get her favorite gift from me of no addition to the Christmas tree pile-up.

btseeMy most beloved Christmas gift ever came from my mom when I was in kindergarten. Wanting to avoid the sex-symbol Barbie dolls that were popular even back then, my mom bought me a life-like little girl doll of similar size called Betsy McCall. We lived on a shoe-string budget when I was a kid, so buying the doll was something Mom probably saved up to do, with no funds left over for her fancy little fashion clothes. What absolutely tickled me that Christmas morning morning was opening the small blue wardrobe trunk that came with my Betsy McCall. Inside I found a little closet filled with tiny clothes made from scraps of fabric Mom had used to sew MY clothes for kindergarten! So here was my new little doll friend, complete with outfits that were miniatures of mine! I ADORED that gift!

So what is the favorite gift you have ever given or received? My darling Betsy McCall doll became a dainty pile of ashes in the Oakland, California firestorm that consumed my mom’s house in 1991. But you know, my memory of that little look-alike Betsy is as alive in my mind and heart as if she were under my Christmas tree today.

Perhaps the magical gifts are the ones with the power to truly touch our hearts.


  • By Donna Fullerton 18 Dec 2014

    Loved the article. Malia may not remember this about her Grandma June, but our Mom did not like to wrap presents. If she couldn’t get someone to wrap them for her, we would get our presents in a brown paper bag with our names written on them. It always makes me laugh when I think of that. I don’t remember a specific gift I cherished but I miss the family time we had when our Father was alive. . Through the dreaded picture taking (my words – ask Mary) to midnight mass – to opening presents on Christmas morning. Those cherished memories will be with me always.
    Mele Kalikimaka & Hau’oli Makahiki Hou.
    Aunty Donna

    • By Renee Tillotson 19 Dec 2014

      I love imagining the brown-paper bag gifts of your family! Good times.

      I remember having a few of the larger, bulkier presents to wrap that I couldn’t stand the thought of using up a whole roll of new Christmas paper for, so piecing together a patchwork quilt of used gift wrap pieces salvaged from previous years. Of course the Sunday funnies were also quite useful in such cases!

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