This past weekend, I spent a couple of hours sitting in the living room floor surrounded by a dozen rolls of wrapping paper, a couple hundred bows, countless gift tags, several empty rolls of tape and a pair of scissors that just seemed determined to hide from me. And gifts — so many gifts to wrap. This is one of my favorite times of this season, my own personal tradition. I settle in front of the TV and lose myself in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ for the thousandth time while I wrap every single gift for the year. It was bliss.

In fact, the whole weekend was outstanding. This year, I’d asked for nothing that could be bought. I only wanted time. Time with my best friend. So I made a list of the things I wanted to do, and he made them all come true in one perfect weekend. We walked around downtown in our beautiful city and took selfies in front of the Christmas tree by the railroad tracks and the lights around the fountain. We took pictures for a couple who were struggling with their camera, and we watched as a group of friends took snapshots with their dog in front of the giant reindeer. The dog had a huge red bow around his neck and kept barking at the reindeer as if he posed a threat to his humans. He was drooling and lovely … the dog, not the reindeer. 

We ate dinner in a downtown restaurant — greasy, fattening, perfect fried food. Then we drove all over town, from one neighborhood to the next, following a map of Christmas lights. We even ended up lost once, on a street we’d never been to before. Time with Tim is always an adventure. 

We laughed our way home where a house full of teenagers were decorating gingerbread houses. They’d saved one for us to do together. When all the houses were lined up on the counter, we face-timed family and friends to judge whose was best. It was messy and fun, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything (although I must state here and now that we clearly had the best design and were robbed of our victory!). 

The next day, instead of doing my Christmas shopping alone like I’ve done for years, Tim went with me. To every store. We helped each other choose gifts, and I discovered how much fun it is, this “Christmas shopping together” thing. We bought groceries, too, and drove home with the truck loaded down. After unloading our goodies, we cleaned the house together, making everything smell like clean linens and pine needles. Then Tim cooked for me. While I sat on the couch with my feet up, he cooked two perfect steaks and loaded baked potatoes. We ate these in front of the TV with the dogs curled up on the couch and the Christmas tree lights twinkling. I fell asleep there with my head in Tim’s lap and one of the dogs draped across my legs.

Sunday morning, we returned to the couch with a hearty breakfast and watched a movie, straight through from beginning to end. It felt like the deepest kind of luxury. After another trip to the store for the obligatory forgotten items, I found myself on the floor ready for my annual gift wrapping tradition. This year was different, though. Tim watched with me. I warned him I would cry at the end, and he hugged me close when the tears started falling. 

“This weekend was exactly what I wanted for Christmas,” I told him. “Thank you for all of this.”

“I loved every minute,” he answered. I think he was surprised at how much he actually did enjoy Christmas shopping and gift wrapping. “It was more than I thought it would be,” he said, searching for the right word. 

“Lagniappe,” I said. 



He looked at me with his eyebrows raised like he does when he thinks I’ve lost my mind. 

“It’s a word an old friend taught me. It means an unexpected bonus, an extra gift on top of a gift.” 

“I like it,” he said. “Sounds like a French breed of dog.”

He’s right, it does. It’s pronounced lan-yap, and it rolls off the tongue like a secret. 

My friend, Bill Hitchock, who is a superb writer, introduced me to that word years ago. And I treasure it. 

A lesson I keep learning is to look for the lagniappe in every single day. It’s there if you search. That weekend was full of lagniappe, not just for me, but for my best friend too. We spent as much time stealing glances at each other and smiling at the other’s happiness as we did watching the TV. 

“You really love all the shopping and wrapping, don’t you?” he smiled as he asked. 

“I do,” I answered. 

“Then I’m happy, too,” was his response. 

And so my gift to you is a List of Lagniappe — bonus gifts that I hope you carry with you into next year the way I will carry my lovely Christmas gift weekend with Tim:

If you love words, read the works of Bill Hitchcock (my lagniappe friend). He writes for the Associated Press, and he is who I want to be when I grow up. He is elegant and wise, and I adore him. Jodi Picoult has a list of novels, each one more perfect than the one before. Read them all — you won’t regret a moment of it. She is wise and kind, and I would pay good money to just have lunch with her someday.  And then there’s Sean Dietrich — “Sean of the South.” If words were music, this man would be a master conductor. I can’t count the times I’ve read a sentence or a paragraph in one of his columns or books and sat back and said, “Ah. That’s exactly what I feel but didn’t know how to say.” He is my literary hero. He makes me laugh through my tears, and that’s priceless. Read any of these three authors, or read them all, and you will be enriched. 

Eat fried vegetables, and eat them in the south. Just do it. Don’t worry about the calories or your cholesterol. Just enjoy the crunch of the batter and the burst of the green beans or the okra between your teeth. You’ll come back for more, I assure you. 

Drive through neighborhoods that have Christmas lights, the flashier and more seizure-inducing the better. Roll down your windows and take it all in. Christmas lights are known to lower blood pressure and make your eyes twinkle. 

Pet a dog. Or adopt a dog. Let them leave hair on your clothes and your couch. Plan your trips and your life around their schedule. The love they blindly and wholeheartedly bless you with will more than make up for all that.

Watch ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ — the black and white version, not the colorized knock off. Lose yourself in Bedford Falls and Jimmy Stewart. Worry for him, like the whole town does, when he thinks his life has no meaning, and then cry with him when he realizes he is irreplaceable and that he was rich beyond measure the whole time. 

Ask for time with the people you love. Insist on it. Make a list of the things that you really want to do, the things that don’t cost money but only time. Tell them what you want and make it happen. Those hours and days are better than anything Amazon can deliver. 

I hope your Christmas is safe and happy and healthy and fun. I pray your List of Lagniappe is endless. Merry Christmas!


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