If Santa Claus is the spirit of giving, it’s a spirit that lingers in many hearts, and is found throughout the year.
The best gifts people describe have little to do with wrapping and bows and stuff under a tree. They’re gifts of time and support, of love and commitment, of making a person feel valued and of bringing a family together.
And yes, sometimes there’s a bow.
‘They adopted us’
Jennifer Reyer’s best gift ever came on Christmas Eve 2015: Her kids adopted her and her husband.
The Reyers, of Groton, could not have children biologically, but Jennifer Reyer still wanted to start a family with her husband, Gary. A coworker thinking about adopting inspired Jennifer Reyer to do the same.
“I told my husband and he said, ‘OK let’s do it,’” she said. “There was a lot of excitement and I was definitely ready for it.”
The couple became foster parents July 4, 2012, of two girls and then later on a boy. They were all siblings — Zoey, 14, Lukas, 11, and Harmony, 7.
“As soon as they walked in the door I loved them,” Reyer said. “We opened our hearts to them. I knew if they went back to their biological mom I would be heart broken.”
After working through the foster care system for 3 1/2 years, the Reyers were told they could adopt.
They left the decision to the kids. “We had asked them what they wanted to do, not wanting to pressure them,” she said.
Then on Christmas Eve 2015 Jennifer Reyer got the best gift, she said. The kids decided they wanted to be adopted.
“It was so beautiful and they made cards,” Reyer said. “We think they adopted us and we adopted them. I was so excited because I finally got to have a family.”
— Shenandoah Briere
‘Given from the heart’
It’s been a hard year for Steve Willey of Cortland.
His marriage ended, he’s without a home and recently he hit a deer with his car.
He sometimes finds himself pining for that “genie in a bottle” perfect gift at Christmas that may put some of his worries to rest. Maybe money to fix the car. Perhaps a new place to live.
But recently Willey realized he’s already found his genie. His best gifts ever were great because of the effort and thought they involved, not their material worth.
The hat a friend knitted for him years ago. It was useful, but there’s more to it: “It was given from the heart,” he said. He misses it.
After his marriage just ended, Willey said the fact a friend offered for him to stay at his house was what he needed the most. He hadn’t found a place to live, yet, so the support was immeasurable.
“The best gift someone could give is something someone puts thought into and gives of themselves instead of just going to Toys R Us or Walmart,” Willey said.
— Catherine Wilde
Two days of freedom
Eighteen years ago, Homer resident Katie Dwyer received the best gift life can give, her first child. Seven months after her son’s birth, she received the best Christmas gift she’d ever gotten: a vacation with no baby duties.
“There was no baby schedule,” Dwyer said. “It was relaxing.”
In 2000, Dwyer’s in-laws got her, and her husband at the time, a bed-and-breakfast weekend at Brae Loch Inn in Cazenovia. She didn’t wait to use the gift.
Not long after Christmas, she and her husband where in Cazenovia, taking advantage of their free time.
“We weren’t going to let that one sit,” Dwyer said.
The inn is only a few hundred feet away from the Cazenovia Lake and less than a mile away from three parks. The inn serves high-end entrees, such as Norwegian salmon and king crab legs. It’s also listed on the state’s haunted history trail.
But Dwyer didn’t mention any ghosts, or fancy high-priced meals. What she remembers the most is two days of freedom.
“We could do whatever,” she said. “It was a free couple of days off.”
No cleaning up after anyone. No having to get her son dressed and ready if she wanted to go somewhere. No daily routines. Just her and her husband enjoying free time.
It felt like a date weekend, Dwyer said. “Which we don’t get often in life.”
–– Nick Graziano
‘It makes my kids’ Christmas
Holly Mowry of McGraw says things have been tough. She’s fallen on hard times and has been looking for work.
“There are no good jobs,” Mowry said, and it’s tough to do Christmas.
While the first thought of the perfect gift might be something someone can hold or use or something they’ve been longing for, for Mowry it’s one with a deeper meaning. A greater act of kindness.
The hard times Mowry has fallen on, has made tougher for her as a parent to provide Christmas for her two young children — one 7 and the other 2.
For this season, however, the best gift Mowry will receive can’t be weighed in cost or shimmer — it’s her mother and father giving her children Christmas.
“They do Christmas for my kids,” she said. “It makes my kids’ Christmas even better because I’m not able to.”
It’s all from the kindness of her parents’ hearts, Mowry said. Yet, Mowry said she tries to repay them: “They get help from me throughout the year.”
— Jacob DeRochie