I am always amazed at the sheer amount of activity that takes place this time of year. People of every background and faith are swept into the “holiday spirit” of decorating, baking, traveling, and gift giving. It’s a circus in just about every retail location and grocery stores appear to exist in pre-famine state only. Oh the joys of the holidays!
Yet, even as I cajoled my terrified-of-heights husband into stringing lights on the highest points of our roof in true Clark Griswold-esqe fashion- the reasons for my seasonal spirit looked onward, chased the dog, rose their bicycles up and down the sidewalk, and made many satisfied comments about the certainty of Santa locating our chimney now that we have enough lights to create a fully-illuminated landing zone on our roof. My two sons make all of the effort completely worthwhile just by watching their excited, happy faces glow with the knowledge that Christmas is drawing near.
But there in lies the dilemma for me. I know that my children are young and eager to wake up on Christmas morning with the sole intention of destroying the neatly wrapped packages that I spent hours folding and taping with beautiful paper and topping with curled ribbon of every matching color. They have blessed me countless times with sweet little phrases that indicate their willingness to share their spoils with one another, and they’ve made me laugh at their fierce directions to other to keep their mitts off a particularly beloved toy. I’m convinced my children know how to enjoy Christmas. What I’m not convinced of is that at five and three that I’ve done a very good job of teaching them what Christmas is really all about.
In the tradition of our faith, they know the story of Jesus’ birth and that He was God’s finest gift to us. But do my children really understand that Christmas is less about getting and giving “things” and more about giving and receiving charity? Even the figure of our modern-day Santa Claus was derived from two historical accounts of a charitable person- The Greek-born Bishop of Myra- St. Nikolaos the Wonderworker and the Dutch Sinterklaas. Both were known for giving help to the needy without any desire for public recognition by sneaking the gifts to the recipient under the dark of night. Now how am I to teach that to my children?
One of our greatest poets famously said, “Charity is a result of Thankfulness”. Perhaps that is why we celebrate Christmas just one month after Thanksgiving. But, to teach thankfulness can be a challenge. Last year, I told my oldest son, Aidan, about a young military family who were struggling financially and would be separated from one another on Christmas due to a deployment. I’ll never forget the look that came into my then four-year-old’s eyes as he asked me questions about their circumstances.
Having spent a Christmas without his Daddy before, Aidan asked if the little boy and girl would be able to talk to their Dad on the computer while they opened gifts. I told him that the family was struggling to buy food, and wouldn’t have any gifts to open that morning, but I hoped that their Daddy would at least have enough downtime to call home.
He then asked me if Santa would bring them each a gift on Christmas Eve. What could I say? I said I thought Santa would try extra hard. Aidan was puzzled by my response, but walked away. Just a few minutes later, he returned with a bag loaded down with some of his most prized possessions (even a few of his younger brother’s). With his little eyes full of understanding he informed me that since he knew Santa has already finished his list that he wanted to be Santa’s helper. He asked to take his toys to the little boy and girl.
It was then that I realized that I should worry less about teaching my children about charity and that I should be more open to learning from them. At four years of age, my son knew what it was to be grateful for the things he has, had enough compassion to part with them to make a stranger smile, and the conviction of character to give me no choice in the matter but to drive him to deliver the packages which he was dead-set on wrapping.
Monday Morning Perspective
“Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas.” – Calvin Coolidge
“He who has not Christmas in his heart will never find it under a tree.” – Roy L. Smith
I’m sure I will never forget that moment; just as I’m sure Aidan will likely never remember it. But mental images such as that will always brighten my holidays. We all have them. Perhaps it’s your family gathered together on Christmas Eve singing carols and hymns and enjoying one another’s company. For some it’s a quiet dinner for two or a noisy one for two hundred (depends on your family)! For some Soldiers I know it’s the memory of cuddling a lonely, mongrel dog in the streets of Iraq while their families were safely tucked into their beds half the world away. What holiday images do you have tucked inside your head and heart?
Whether yours bring tears of joy or sadness, the spirit of the season comes with an incredible gift- the gift of today. We have the power to create new memories- mental images that will allow us to carry the spirit of this season with us all through 2012 and the years that follow. May yours be merry and bright- and may your charity allow others the same gift.
Have a wonderful week and a very Merry Christmas!
© Crystal Dyer 2011. All rights reserved.