Soon after the children had gone home for break, McCormicks would designate a specific day to pack Christmas gifts for the community. It was the intention that no one would be left out. All community members were welcomed to participate whether they attended church services or not.
Of course everyone will understand when I say that the greater bulk of the gifts were for children and babies. People think of them first when it comes to Christmas, but each age group and sex had a good supply of gifts. All of the boxes and cartons of donations were unpacked and sorted onto the tables in the dining hall. To start with sister McCormick or someone would put sheets of paper on the tables: Baby girl, Baby boy, Toddlers girl, Toddler boy, Boys, Girls, Teen Girl, Teen Boy, Man, Woman, Miscellaneous. Then we would each take a box of donations and begin sorting the contents into the appropriate areas. Some things went into the miscellaneous area- flashlights, note pads, pen and pencil sets, things that either a man, woman or teen would be happy to have. Those could be used at the end when we began to run short in any specific area.
Sorting took a quite a while and usually we broke for lunch after a couple hours of sorting. Yes, it was a big job. While we were having lunch someone got a pencil and paper to list all the regular attendees at church services. Of course they were our best friends and we packed gifts for them individually. Sister King, Sister Brown, Daisy, Lorene, Wilson, Bahi and a few others usually “made out very well.” So did the children and teens who came to every service. I don’t’ mean we gave them ton of gifts and slacked on others but we picked out things for them we particularly thought they would like. Not only were we closer to them than other community members, but we knew them well enough to know the things they enjoyed and would better be able to use. If there was an especially pretty towel and washcloth set we made sure one of the ladies got it instead of a more generic one. Sometimes there were scarves and we would be sure that they got one of those. Okay, call it favoritism. We always go the extra bit for our friends. Even though we are giving to everyone, those we love best get a little more consideration.
So first on the list were those we saw all the time. Then we would do the ones who came from time to time or who frequently visited at the mission for one thing or another. These were the ones we knew best. After those gifts were packed we prepared bags for Man, Woman, Boy, Girl, Baby, Teen Boy or Girl. That ensured that everyone, even a stranger who happened to be passing through and saw a chance for a free meal, would get a gift. And quite frankly they were all nice gift bags. You would have been happy to get one yourself, even one of the generic ones.
Only at the very end, after a couple hundred bags, did we begin to run short in any category. It seemed that the Men usually came out on the short end of the stick and sometimes McCormick would do a run to town to pick up a dozen flashlights and batteries or packs of pencils and men’s work gloves or tee shirts. We also bought soap and tooth bushes and toothpaste to fill in. Even teens appreciated those.
Usually we packed about 250 bags. Each bag had four or five items. If you do the multiplication you can imagine what the dining room tables looked like when we started and the mountains of gift bags we had when we finished. It was so much fun for all of us that we really didn’t notice how tired we were until it was all done. And we did do it all in one day. Whew.
And add to this the mission kids bopping around, nibb-nosing into this and that, being chased out and coming back in, asking questions, wanting things from their moms, just generally being kids. They were really great, though, about not sneaking anything off the tables. I have to give them lots of credit. They were kids. And those tables for the children were piled high with neat gifts! I don’t’ever remember any of the McCormick kids or the Brown kids getting in trouble for trying to appropriate any thing for themselves. They did do a lot of wishful thinking out loud, but you can’t blame them for that! Of course they were part of the church and the community so someone always did a bag for them. They didn’t get everything they had their eye on (there wouldn’t have been anything left if they had!) but whoever packed their bag made sure they got one of the things they liked.
The list we had brainstormed back at lunch time was divided into sections and each worker packing bags got several names. We took our lists and packed for them first. ( And if you happened to have one another’s name you made sure that you snuck the items into the bag without their seeing it. Naturally no one packed their own bag. ) When all of the individual bags were packed we began taking a bag and labeling it Woman, going to the women’s table and putting three or four items in it and so forth. Sometimes you could end up with a very nice bag that looked empty! In those cases we would go back and replace one small sized item with a bulky towel or sweat shirt or something else that took up a little more space. No body enjoys getting a skimpy looking gift on Christmas, even if it is great inside.
Then as we came down to the end we had items remaining but not much choice as to size or numbers. We made sure though that every bag had good choices in it. These bags were also the last ones given out. It usually worked out fine though. Navajo are probably the politest people on earth—well, they were 30 odd years ago when we were doing this. The younger generation may have changed. Strangers stood back politely and let the regular folks come through first with their families and we handed them their gifts. Then those less and less familiar came to get their gifts. The perfect strangers-and there were usually a few—still got a nice gift but they didn’t shove their way to the front. Even a tee-shirt, a flashlight, batteries and soap made a good gift because they were all needed items that often were bypassed when groceries were more necessary.
We usually ended up with a few of these smaller gifts left over. If one of the faithful church people was absent for some reason, McCormick would make a special trip to deliver their bag, but those were the only gifts we delivered individually. The few left over gifts were boxed up and kept for next year or for an emergency over the course of the next 12 months.
Tomorrow, I’ll tell about the Big Day.