As I drove down the highway on my last trip before Christmas, I started to think about what all we would be doing during the holidays. As one thought ran into another, I started to think about how my Christmases have changed over the years. I started to wonder, “What does Christmas mean to you?” The traditional Christian reason for Christmas is to celebrate the birth of Jesus. “The reason for the season” as some would say. Others would tell you it is more about the “spirit” of Christmas. Giving and goodwill and such. Yet others would say it is just a commercial holiday that is intended to create an emotional obligation to purchase things. My intention is not to debate these things but to recall how my Christmases have changed over the years and how each has given me another prospective. I hope by telling my story that it will awaken some of your fond memories that may not have come to light in awhile.
As a youngster, I remember laying in bed silently listening for Santa and his reindeer to hit the roof. This sort of quiet concentration seemed to always lead to a sound sleep in short order. The next thing I knew, it was time to jump out of bed and run into the living room to find the presents that Santa had left for me. With big eyes I would see presents that had not been there the night before. This was followed by a bee line to my parents room to see if they were awake yet. That few minutes between them waking up and getting to the living room was like an eternity. The rest of the day was spent playing with the new toys and admiring the gifts I had received. The house always seemed to be filled with smells of food cooking and the sound of children playing and having fun. All the mystery and wonder of that special time was my world for those short years. However, from one Christmas to the next seemed like ages. The days would drag by until finally the day would arrive. I just wanted it to hurry up and get here.
As I got a little older, someone introduced me to the philosophy that it was better to give than to receive. That was something my young mind had to ponder. I wasn’t sure that was really true. Along with that came the responsibility of deciding what was a good gift for others. Who I should give to and what expense I should try to manage was the question of the day. A task that is still difficult to this day. The relationship between spending and how much someone meant to me was a hard measure to balance. All this added confusion didn’t take away from the fact that Christmas was a special time of year. The good feelings of spreading joy and well wishes to everyone you met. Learning the Christmas songs and watching the traditional Christmas shows on television just seemed to make your heart a little fuller and somehow balanced the bad in the world.
Moving out into the world on my own and many miles from home, I started to search for the same feelings for Christmas that I felt when I was surrounded by friends and family. I found that was a little harder to replicate when you had no family and few friends. I really started to feel the meaning of loneliness. That is when I began to learn that the Christmas season was one of depression and rejection for a lot of people. I would buy myself some things that I had wanted throughout the year to try to ease the loneliness and regain the spirit of Christmas. This never really took the loneliness away. The only thing that made me feel better was being around people and being a part of something.
When I got married and started having children of my own, I began to feel the responsibility of making Christmas a special time for my own family. Most of the credit for that I have to give to my wife, Lesli. We began to recreate the magic of the season for our children. The family would go out and pick out the perfect tree and drag it home. This followed by boxes of decorations that adorned our perfect tree. Gifts started to appear slowly under the tree until Christmas morning arrived. On Christmas Eve night, we started the tradition of opening just one gift. After the kids went to bed we did the Santa thing as well as the empty milk glass, cookie crumbs and nibbled carrots for the reindeer too. The meaning of Christmas had changed for us. It wasn’t so much about what was under the tree for us but what was under the tree for our kids. The big eyes. The laughter and little squeals of joy they would get when they opened something special.
Christmas day had family gathering at our house after they had their own family gift openings at their own houses. Our house was filled with that laughter and smell of food cooking just like many years ago in my childhood. All our families gathered to exchanged gifts, hugs, smiles and well wishes for the future. Shared were the tales of the year.
Now as the calendar closes in on Christmas, we are looking forward to our children coming back to our home to share that special time of the year once again. There will be a gathering of close friends and family to share that special meaning of Christmas to each of us individually as well as collectively. We will all take away something a little different from the experience yet share in the same. My hope for you this year is that you fully experience the goodness of the season. Reconnect with some of your own special memories that maybe you can share with others. Take in every facet of these times because they will soon change. My wish is for you to experience health, happiness and love the rest of your days. Merry Christmas to you and yours.