The Christmas season has begun. For many shopping is already complete. Others are just beginning to think about what they will buy for friends and loved ones. Still others are feeling the hurt that comes with knowing they are going to have a year with no presents under the tree. Some will not even have a tree or a home in which to celebrate the season.
Mom spent hours baking, using recipes from the war years when supplies were limited. Chocolates made from mashed potatoes and flavorings (maple, mint, orange, lemon). They were delicious. There was always gingerbread men and sugar cookies, which we helped to decorate. There was fruitcake, vinatarta (fig layer cake), and oatmeal logs.
Our tree though small and real, was simply decorated. Under the tree were very few gifts. Santa always brought things we needed, and one present that was along the lines of what we dreamt of receiving. Christmas eve we settled around the tree listening to Christmas carols, reading "Twas the Night Before Christmas", talking and opening one gift. On Christmas morning we would find our stockings, made by our sister Jayne, filled with a mandarin orange, a few hard candies and peanuts in the shell.
I remember the peace which filled our home, beginning with the first day of baking and preparation right through the season. I don't remember all of the presents I ever got, nor even exactly what our tree was like. I remember pulling taffy in the snow. I remember mom being so careful where she hid special treats, so we wouldn't eat them before Christmas day. I remember sitting together, being a family, reading from the bible, playing monopoly and scrabble. I miss those days. I miss that feeling.
Yet I always dreaded going back to school or to the arena to skate, knowing I would be asked, "What did you get for Christmas?" The rolled eyes at my delight over simple gifts when they had received so much more still leaves me humbled. But I knew even then, I was the lucky one. Could they not see what Christmas was really about? I wonder if they see things differently now?
I am so grateful to have received the best gift in the world each year - the gift of love.
My heart goes out to those who cannot meet the accepted standard of Christmas and those who work extra long hours to buy their children exactly what is on their list, or at least something on the popular gifts to buy list. My heart goes out to those who have no family to celebrate with. I feel helpless for those who will spend the nights of the season cold and hungry, knowing if we took what was spent over the next month on last minute gifts, guilt gifts and tinsel we could at least for a few days make life easier for them. If we took what we spent over the years we have celebrated beyond magical, we could rehabilitate and educate a good number of people unable to find work or live in our society filled with expectations and judgements.
During a time in my life when income was low, I discovered the gift of giving to a food kitchen offering Christmas dinner to the homeless. I chose between giving there or giving more to my daughter. It felt good knowing others were enjoying hot turkey, dressing, cranberries and salads, friendship, while I was able to sit around the tree, in my warm home, loving my family. And so each year I give to them, along with the other holidays, and give thanks for all I have. I am grateful for the love in my life, a warm cozy home, hot meals, warm clothes, a comfortable bed, and a simple tree with a few presents to celebrate the Spirit of Christmas. I am grateful to have learned giving is not about giving things, but giving ourselves. The only gifts we really remember are those with sentimental value. They are often inexpensive trinkets given by our children or an aunt who simply wants to be remembered on Christmas morning.
When I see posts asking if we are willing to be politically incorrect and Wish everyone a Merry Christmas I hit the like button. Yet a part of me wonders if it matters. If celebrating Christmas is just about the decorations, parties and presents, then does it really matter what we call it? If you prefer Christmas I can only hope it is because you choose to celebrate the love, laughter, peace and joy as Christmas was celebrated in years past. For me, any holiday can be happy, or any day for that matter, but Christmas is a symbol of choosing peace on earth, a symbol of giving to others everyday, and receiving all the good, all the love, all the peace that this day was meant to remind us of.
As we try manically to survive this season, I hope you will take time every day to remember this season is not about how hard you have to work to buy the gifts, nor how many crazy stores you have to visit to find the perfect gift. This season is about stopping, reaching out, loving others and creating family time and community. This season is about sharing the many blessings you have with others who have not, with an intention they will prosper in the coming year as you have prospered.
So Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays - whichever you prefer. I hope this season and the coming year will be all you could wish for. May the magic of the season find you warm, prosperous and healthy, but most of all loved.