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Most people think that the holidays are stressful. And, yes, very few would argue with you. When I think about being an Executive Assistant in December, my mind does naturally go in that direction, too. However, when I really think deeply about those weeks and days leading up to Christmas and New Years, there is a lot that makes me smile: holiday parties with significant others, decorating the office with bushy and bright poinsettia flowers, and opening up boxes with tacky, but albeit thoughtful, gifts from partners. And of course, closing up the office for what I know will be a quiet seven days. The excitement and pressure leading up to the holiday break stops suddenly and we do finally (FINALLY!) have a chance to slow-down, reflect, and spend time with loved ones.
This year, we asked the Executive Assistants in Cabinet’s network to share some of their favorite stories about gifts they’ve received or given to others during the holiday season. Some will make you laugh, others will make you cry. They are a beautiful expression of the souls of assistants: kind, hardworking, and resilient.
Here are a few of our favorites:
My husband and I were in our first few years of marriage and had barely enough money to survive. Those days we struggled for the basic necessities. We didn't have money to purchase Christmas presents for each other. He seemed much more bothered by that than myself and he was feeling down when we went to sleep that Christmas Eve. On Christmas Day, I woke up earlier than he did and used the time to tidy up the place so that when he woke up, at least it would be clean. We had a fire in the fireplace the night before that had long been out. I happened to be looking at the fireplace and I saw a spark start all by itself so I tended to it and by the time he woke up we had a beautiful fire. Our Christmas present to each other! Thirty eight years later, we fondly look back at that special Christmas Day.
I loved Barbies when I was a little girl. We couldn't afford much and my dear grandmother hand-made around a dozen Barbie outfits, creating a beautiful new wardrobe for my doll. (If you've ever sewn tiny doll clothes, you know this was a task). They were sewn, knit, and crocheted. There was a fancy nightie and matching knit robe, a very cool gold/green dress and matching coat, a blue plaid pleated skirt, a ballgown, and so much more. I saved all of them and my girls played with them, too. Just the memory of them puts a smile on my face. Best. Gift. Ever.
As the Office Manager, I found myself leaving friendly reminders via post it notes for the folks in the office... the most common was 'FYI dirty dishes go in the dishwasher, not in the sink' and for Christmas that year, one of my colleagues in the office took that specific post it without me knowing and had a custom mug made for me with a replica of that post it on the mug. The office gifted me that mug for Christmas. Very cute and hilarious - one of my favorite holiday gifts for sure! If I win I'd be happy to share the photo of the mug. It's quite funny! ;)
Every since I could remember, Christmas was always my favorite holiday (after my birthday of course... ;) Everything about Christmas and the holiday season just made my soul warm - literally. The cold snuggly weather, the delicious home made food, the laughter around the table, BUT most importantly, THE GIFTS! I am a very thoughtful and intentional individual by nature, so I loved GIVING gifts more than receiving them; giving people exactly what they wanted and more - I did my research. It was my sole duty to spread Christmas cheer and have people gasp with excitement on that very special day.
My madre, since my very first Christmas, always told us "It's not about the gifts, it's about the people around, yada yada yada..." Of course, I knew that it wasn't about the gifts - but who doesn't love gifts?! It wasn't until my senior year of college during the holidays that I truly felt and lived through that very strong statement. My little brother was in jail, my sister had moved to Mexico, my mom was in rehab & I was a broke college student. It was then that I realized, who do I even spread this love and cheer to if the people I love the most are not going to be around for me to shower with holiday cheer? Luckily, my madre was able to come out for Christmas, but it was the first Christmas, that wasn't like the others. There was no magic, it was dark, gloomy and really really sad. I remember having various conversations with my mom that day - just her and I about how that year felt so different, very somber. As much as I wanted to shower her with gifts, my bank account simply said "not this time". All she wanted and all she needed in that very moment was my company after so many days in isolation and recovery. It was then that I realized, it doesn't matter if you get a Range Rover, a Cartier bracelet, a new warm sweater - what matters really is who is around you. The magic and the "holiday cheer" is in the love that we give each other. I knew in that moment I would give all of the gifts I had received just to have one more "perfect" Christmas with all of my family surrounding me.
So, although I still go above and beyond to make people feel special around the holiday season, I take a little more time to send thoughtful notes, to pick up the phone and say "I love you, Merry Christmas!" and to hug a little tighter and longer. It is there where the magic lies, where the true beauty of Christmas is.
I lived 4 hours away from my mother. I was in Northern Michigan and Mom in Metro Detroit area, and travel at Christmas time wasn't always a pleasant activity due to snow and ice covered roads. We had told her we were staying home for Christmas to avoid the hazardous driving. She was very understanding and didn't want us to take risks that we shouldn't. Mom was experiencing health issues and receiving dialysis 3 times a week and unable to travel herself. Christmas day dawned and later that morning Mom heard a knock on the door and found my husband and myself standing on the doorstep as a Christmas surprise. Lots of tears and hugs and excitement on our arrival. Mom lost her battle with kidney failure a couple of years ago, but her memory lives on in my heart.
So many Christmas memories to choose from! Christmas Eve at my grandparents with all of my aunts, uncles and cousins; my granny always chose a whistle-blowing, battery-powered train engine for the youngest grandson (so noisy), the food and mostly just the time with family laughing and telling stories.
My Daddy always made sure there were all sorts of Christmas treats at home. These included walnuts (we called them English walnuts in Georgia), tangelos, chocolate-covered cherries, creme drops and tangelos in the house.
One Christmas morning, my sister and I were ripping open all of our presents. When I opened one particular gift, I was a bit taken aback. A cute little box, lovingly wrapped and containing...a walnut! I was flabbergasted! But okay, whatever. Next! I dropped it to my side and moved to the next gift. My sister, who is seven years younger than me, soon came across her walnut! She too quickly moved on to the next shiny object. At this point, my dad decided he wanted a walnut, so he grabbed the one I had just tossed to the side and cracked it open.
Well, this was no ordinary walnut! No, this was a walnut that had been doctored and engineered by my dad! He had carefully separated the walnuts at the seams, cleaned out the meat, placed something inside, and neatly glued the two halves back together!
My walnut contained a $100 bill, my baby sisters, a $50 bill. Well, this walnut became the highlight of our Christmas! We made Daddy recreate it repeatedly for friends and family for years to come. I even made sure that my own daughter had this experience years later.
This happened over 40 years ago, my Daddy passed in 2013, but this is something that is still talked about every single Christmas. While the money quickly burned a hole in our pockets, the gift itself is the memory of that Christmas morning is everlasting.
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