At $10 each, the hats were a tad beyond our price range. But we decided we'd splash out and spend the extra $20, since eventually they could end up housing, say, 30,000 displaced persons. We'd put Angelina on the gift card, too, and then we wouldn't have to buy her anything at the last minute. We were suffused with the joy of giving.

Mission accomplished, we found ourselves considering the plight of the Three Kings. Even with an unlimited royal budget, it still must have been difficult to shop for a newborn Messiah. But they looked around their respective kingdoms and gathered up the swankiest stuff they could find. In the earliest example of holiday gift giving, it was the thought and the effort that counted.

All in all, I came away with one really valuable lesson. You can learn a lot by shopping outside your ordinary consumer comfort zone. And during our practice pilgrimage, Gary, Charlie, and I remembered what's important about the whole insane gift hunt: appreciating specific virtues of the people we're buying for, and connecting these qualities, with love, to fabulous presents. And you gotta figure your brother's wife is going to hate everything you give her anyway, so you may as well save a few bucks, right?

'Tis the season!


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