By Jeffrey D. Allers
“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas …perhaps…means a little bit more” -How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss.
The season of giving is upon us again, and so it was that I found myself recently in a scenario repeated around the world millions of times over for millions of other fathers. I was fighting crowds in a department store, looking for last-minute Christmas presents.
Of course, this being Germany, I had to weave through a dozen aisles of boardgames on my way to the die-cast automobile section of the toy department. My sons have enough games to play from my collection, and their wish lists included other kinds of toys, but I couldn’t resist a few moments pause to check for holiday specials. The temptation to look at Christmas from a materialistic point of view is often just too overwhelming.
And even though showing my appreciation to a friend or family member through the giving of a gift is usually more fun than stressful for me, I’m realizing that there are other forms of giving that are much more valuable to others…and more costly to oneself. And it’s the kind of giving that isn’t limited to a specific time of year.
One of the things I enjoy doing, for example, is to host a biweekly game night at the Christian community center where I work. Since I moved to another part of Berlin a few years ago, I’ve been steadily building a mailing list of interested people I’ve met. It’s an open event, so anyone can come, although the games available are selected from my collection, as none of the other attendees usually bring their own. Still, I try to have a variety of games on hand that would appeal to all sorts of people, and then, much like a music DJ, I vary the games during the evening to cater to each attendee.
It has been especially exciting for me to see my desire for an atmosphere of acceptance and mutual encouragement promoted by the wide range of game-players attending, whether they be 18 or 48 years of age. In fact, when a mentally disabled girl showed up in the middle of an evening, one of the tables of gamers did not hesitate to invite her to join their game of Cartagena. And they did not mind a bit when, 20 minutes later, she suddenly left before its conclusion.
But to be absolutely honest, maintaining this kind of attitude is not easy for me. After all, I am like anyone else—I have an agenda of games I’d really like to play, and I have very little time to play them. We’re all wired to be self-centered, and even the most big-hearted people struggle to be selfless.
My biggest test to date came on a night when only one of my friends had shown up for my gaming event. He was a geek like me, and I was looking forward to taking the opportunity to play some more complex games with him. Then, suddenly, a young companion pushed an older woman through the door in a wheelchair and, without saying a word, left her there, parked next to our table. She had seen my flyers and had come to play games, but she had expected to play what she knew, namely Sorry! or Rummikub.
There was an initial inward struggled with my own desires, as I realized that I would have to wait another day to finally play the classic “gamer’s game,” Goa. But then I began to see this woman—and this opportunity—in a different light. I grabbed a copy of Qwirkle and, together with my friend, gave her the most valuable gift I had to give: my time. Two weeks later, she returned to a full gaming night, and, as I explained to the others that I was going to move to another table to play a simpler game with her, one of them jumped up and said, cheerfully, “I’ll join you!”
The accepting attitude of my core group of gamers—and even more, the smile on the face of that woman at the end of the evening—are the most memorable gaming experiences I have from my regular gaming group, something to fill a different kind of “session report.”
In an age when tolerance is a popular buzzword, I would strive to go further. At the end of my life, I don’t think it will matter how many of the “Hot 100” games on BoardgameGeek I’ve managed to play, or how many times I’ve played them. It won’t even matter how many games I’ve introduced to others or given away as gifts.
However, if someone was able to tell me that the time I spent with them at the game group meant something to them, that the community they experienced helped get them through a difficult time in their lives, or especially, that they came to understand the true meaning of the Christmas I celebrate, then that would be far more satisfying for me.
If our spirit of giving is limited to things that come from a store, then we—like the Grinch—have completely missed the point of Christmas.
Christmas—and giving—means a whole lot more