by Gary North
You are among a select few if this is still December 25. You are probably in the post-gift-unwrapping phase. Maybe you were given one item that you really wanted. If so, someone really understands you.
You may be recovering from dinner. You probably think you ate too much, but in three hours, you'll want a snack.
Christmas is about overflow. It is a day of unclogged closets and clogged arteries. It is a time when we ought to reflect on just how much we have. More than we need, surely. More than we want? Maybe.
Our memories of presents received will fade as surely our memories of SuperBowl XVI or XXXII have faded into a confused jumble, if that. There may be a handful of memories of great presents, scattered in our minds across the years like toys buried in mounds of unwrapped gift paper. Yet, once upon a time, the toys meat a lot to us — for a day or a week or a year.
I offer you a challenge. Make a list of the best Christmas toys you received prior to age 18. It will not be a long list.
Then think about how long you played with them. How long did they mean something to you?
Then write down why.
There is method to my madness. If you will go through the exercise, you may learn something of value.
MY BEST GIFT
My best gift was a Schwinn Black Phantom bicycle. I got it in 1950. I remember it because we were living in Denver, so I can date that Christmas. According to the Web, those bikes cost $90, which was about $800 in today's money. I had remembered the price as $100. The price mattered to me in 1950, so I recalled it within an 11% range — and on the high side. My grandmother gave it to me. She was living in California.
That bike was THE kids' bike in my era. It had fat tires, only one speed, and was heavy. You can see photos here.
I guess it was the equivalent of owning a Hummer. It absorbed a lot of energy, the same way a Hummer does. I supplied the energy.
I wanted that bike because of the advertising. Schwinn advertised in "Boy's Life," the Boy Scout magazine. I was never interested in scouting, but I liked reading the magazine. I knew nothing about three-speed lightweight bikes, which were far more rational. They were not what kids rode in 1950.
Why was that my best present? It gave me mobility, but any bike would have done that. It was expensive. There was status involved. No one else I knew had one. I think that was the key.
Over the years, I lost my taste for status, but it took a long time. I think I was 20 before it finally lost any attraction for me. Better late than never.
What amazes me in retrospect is that the toys mean nothing to me now, even as memories. They provided amusement. But so did books. I remember the books. Books were cheaper. They provided more hours of amusement.
So, I buy books today. I buy them without guilt, especially cheap ones. Books are my toys. I justify them in terms of the fact that they are also tools of my trade.
As stuff goes, books are good. Others can use them after I'm gone. But stuff eventually goes, including us.
I am reminded of the words of the Apostle Paul:
When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things (1 Corinthians 13:11).
We put away childish toys. It is a mistake to substitute toys for grown-ups.
If you get a present, will you still appreciate it in 20 years? I like music DVDs. Down from the Mountain was one of the best gifts I ever received. I like DVDs of classic movies, especially westerns. Last year, I got these: Shane, Silverado, and The Searchers — three S-title westerns. That was a haul!
I remember when I first saw The Christmas Story (1984), the movie about Ralphie's dream of a Red Ryder 200-shot B-B gun. I owned such a gun in my youth. I can recall going to a store where Red and Little Beaver appeared, live. So, I empathized with Ralphie.
The movie was written by Jean Shepherd, who had a cameo roll. He tells Ralphie that the line forms at the rear . . . way over there. Jean Shepherd was the greatest story-teller of my era. I listened to him religiously at seminary. His 45-minute radio programs are still on-line. Thanks to the web, Shep lives! Excelsior!
Shepherd understood what it means to be a kid. He didn't forget. Neither did Bill Cosby. Most of us do forget. Christmas reminds us. I think that's why we like Christmas.
Today, I will have my first Christmas with a grandchild. I am sure I will remember this Christmas better than most of the others — probably more than all the others.
Christmas as we celebrate it is not a holiday that celebrates the supernatural. It should be, but it isn't. So, we make the best of it. I say this as a former student of John Murray, a true Scottish Presbyterian, a throwback to an earlier era. He was not like the Massachusetts' Puritans, 1659—81, who levied a five-shilling fine on anyone who celebrated Christmas, but he shared their spirit of Christmas. He did not wish anyone a merry Christmas. He did not respond when anyone wished him one. I once wished him a happy Easter. The cold look of his one good eye caught me up short. (I never learned how he viewed Happy New Year. If it had been accompanied by a bottle of Scotch and a cigar, probably favorably.)
This afternoon, my family shall have our traditional Christmas dinner, just as we have ever since we saw The Christmas Story — at a Chinese restaurant. We have never ordered the Peking duck with its head still intact, but we have honored an honored tradition, just as it was handed down by Shepherd to a new generation.
WHAT IS WORTH PAYING FOR
I recently bought a $1,000 tablet PC computer. It lets me write on the screen. It recognizes my handwriting. It lets me take notes verbally. It converts these notes into digital text. It then let's me retrieve the notes by key words. I have waited for such a tool since I got my first computer, a mini, in 1980.
I would have paid far more. I am a great believer in buying the tools you need. If you can get a good price for a used tool in good condition, buy it. But pay retail if you must.
My view is that production beats consumption most of the time. Work trumps leisure most of the time. Holidays are good only to the extent that they let us refresh ourselves to do better work. Recreation is re-creation. Like the day of rest in the Bible, or like the annuals feasts, the breaks from work remind us of the joy of creation.
For those who do not share my view of work, I can say only this: you have not found your calling, which is the most important thing you can do in which you would be most difficult to replace. If you get paid for your calling, so much the better.
There is an old saying: "the right tool for the right job." I heartily affirm that saying. It is a saying for the ages. To do your job well, buy the tool that will enable you to do it best in the time you have allotted. If you can do the job in less time with a more expensive tool, buy the tool. Save time, not money. You can always make more money. You cannot buy more time.
Toys are not worth the money — not retail, anyway. But tools to make toys, if you are a toy maker, are worth the money.
But don't consumers set value? No; they set prices. The competitive bidding of consumers establishes final prices, but it does not establish final value. Value is subjective and imputed.
There is great value in satisfying the desires of consumers, a value that goes beyond the prices that consumers pay.
Producers understand this. Consumers may not.
This is the lesson of Christmas as we celebrate it. The toys matter for children, but fade in value. The toys matter for the adults who give them to children, and they do not fade in value nearly so fast. The children impute less and less value to the toys. The givers impute value long after. Videos of the opening of the toys mean a great deal.
On December 24, I would have told you, "Buy the camcorder.
It's not a toy. It's a tool. It preserves value."
Before the day is over, find ways of preserving value.
Memories fade. Pictures fade more slowly than memories.
Thanks for the memories.
December 25, 2007
Copyright © 2007 LewRockwell.com