The Christmas Spirit
For the past few years, Christmas has been really hard for me. There is so much pain and suffering going on in the world that I'm having a hard time celebrating this time of year. This holiday has turned into a materialistic holiday. It's about what you want and how much money you are going to spend on those who are closest to you. In my eyes, it seems that those who already have plenty use this time of the year to hoard even more things.
We watch youtube videos of people pushing each other and stampeding over helpless retail workers. Some find those videos funny. Some are disgusted at how these people could be so selfish. These videos show the raw, natural emotions that mankind once exhibited in the wild. Except this time, it's over a TV. It's easy to be disgusted by these people but then again, what if these are the people who can only get nice things when they are at discounted price?
In the 90's I remember my mom waking up at the crack of dawn to wait in line to buy us discounted socks, among other Christmas gifts. I remember hearing her stories of panic and how she got the last 10-pack in my size. The reality is, that there are lots of people in this country that only get socks at Christmas. There are people who wouldn't have a computer to do their bills, apply for jobs, or check their children's grades if it weren't for these Black Friday sales.
During college I worked at Gap Kids. During one of our holiday sales, a woman came in and bought winter coats, gloves, hats and scarves to donate to 24 different children. Her total came to over $2000. It would have been more if it wasn't for our sale. On the opposite side of the spectrum we watched parents buy their children $90 coats for only $20 in sizes too big so that it would last them through two more brutal Chicago winters.
It is hard for me to get excited about this time of year because I think I'm one of the lucky ones. I have a warm place to be. I have family to spend the holiday with. I receive gifts out of luxury rather than necessity. But most of all, I think it's disappointing to see how many others in my situation are completely unaware of their blessings.
When I was growing up, Christmas was a magical time. I cannot think of a single Christmas where I wasn't completely excited about the things Santa had brought me. As a child I knew my family wasn't the richest. I knew we had money struggles, but even then, every Christmas was perfect. My mother made the whole month of December a celebration. We would decorate the house, make Christmas goodies for our neighbors, and even huddle around the piano to sing songs from my mother's huge Christmas song book. I remember my friends getting big, expensive Christmas gifts but never felt jealous because my Christmases were magical.
One of the things we would do was leave Christmas goodies on a neighbors door step, ring the doorbell and run! It was our absolute favorite thing to do as kids. That taught me from a very young age that doing good deeds makes you feel better than getting praised for doing good deeds.
One year, while doing one of these drop offs, we sat in the car near a house of one of the families from our church. I watched my mom almost reluctantly put a huge wad of cash into an envelope. She handed it to me and told me to put it with the cookies we were to drop off. My mom reenforced the "do not be seen" rule. As an adult I've asked me mom about that night. She told me that we really could have used that money, which ended up being $100, but she knew that family needed it more.
The year my parents got divorced was rough. We had no money. We would make frequent visits to the Bishop's Store House. For those of you who aren't familiar, this is a basically like a grocery store, minus cash registers. The food is paid for by members of the Mormon church. It is used by those who can't afford food. My siblings and I referred to this weirdly labeled food as "Jesus food."
As the oldest in the family I had very low expectations for Christmas that year, regardless of my other divorced-family friends saying "Now you get two Christmases!" But leave it to my mother to find someone less fortunate than us. There was a family that recently moved into our church; single-mother with four kids. I can't remember if the mother had just lost her job or if she didn't make very much money. Either way, they were in a more dire situation than us.
Growing up my mother made this book of 24 stories. You would read a story a day throughout the month of December as a count down to Christmas. My mother made photocopies of each page and we would drop one off every night at this family's house. Sometimes we made cookies, other times we just left that day's story. On Christmas Eve we left the last story with some goodies and a few small gifts. I don't know if it was my mother's intensions, but while that Christmas was destined to be one of worst, it ended up being the most memorable. I can't even tell you what we did Christmas Day or what Santa even brought. But I can tell you I felt the Christmas Spirit of giving. Instead of focusing on ourselves and our troubles, we focused on bringing joy to someone else.
This year I am fortunate enough to know an amazing Muslim family who has found themselves in Chicago as refugees. They show great courage, love, and friendship. While our religious beliefs are different and they do not even celebrate Christmas, I have tried my hardest to provide them service this holiday season. Yesterday I helped them winterize their windows, something completely foreign to this family since they have never lived somewhere with a cold winter.
After we finished the windows, we sat down to eat the amazing Malaysian noodle dish my friend had made. She told me that her oldest son had just been offered a sponsorship to attend a prestigious middle school in Chicago. The monthly dues are $350 but they are being taken care of by a generous donor. We reflected on the past year and how she was able to get her drivers license, save enough money for a car, and get her kids into a good school. I have seen this family grow so much and accomplish the true American Dream. It is so humbling to see this family start with nothing and come so far in such a short time.
As I left her home yesterday, I realized, that while this year had been a really hard one, for almost everyone I know, we can still overcome. It's hard to start over. It's hard to feel optimistic about the future but if we help each other, if we focus on others instead of our own situations, we will find that not only is the Christmas Spirit still alive, but so it the human spirit.