This is the meaning of Christmas

I’ve long spoken of my disdain for the holidays.  The greed.  The outrageous behavior.  The ridiculous parents that spoil their children (who are already spoiled and misbehaved).  The people going further into debt because they just *have* to give that present to so-and-so because “it’s what you do for Christmas.”  The fighting between family members.  The nonsensical drinking at functions and the following justification because “it’s Christmas” and that makes it okay.

And I won’t even go into the “keeping Christ in Christmas” thing.  Today.  This time.  Out loud.  (Not gonna lie, I am totally on a soapbox in my head, but no one needs to hear that.)

BFF#2 even got me a “Humbug.”  This little creature that is ugly and, for me, symbolizes the ugliness of the season.

But beyond that, you might be asking yourself, “Why?  Why, flame, are you so fired up about this?”  I’ll tell you why.  It’s a little sad story I like to call the history of my life.  It may be depressing in the beginning, but stick with me.  It gets better, in the end.

I wasn’t always so jaded.  For the first few years of my life, I didn’t know enough to be jaded.  That all changed when I hit the ripe old age of 6.  I learned, then, that things aren’t fair.  And you know what?  I was okay with that, for a while.

We were poor.  When I hear my friends (who are all doing well for themselves) talk about not wanting their children to “go without,” you’d think they meant food or shelter or something equally important.  But no… they’re talking about laptop computers and other bullshit.  When I say, “I went without,” I mean that quite literally.  At times I didn’t eat.  At times we didn’t have electricity.  I was even homeless for a small time, and lived in a parking lot.

By the time I was 8 years old, we lived in San Diego and had it rough.  My mother was sinking further into addiction (her drug of choice was meth, but I suspect she did other things, too).  She was also struggling with undiagnosed severe hypo-thyroid disease and narcolepsy.  My step-father, at the time, was sexually abusing me, and using heroin.  We had several other people living with us, all unemployed and all addicted to drugs and alcohol.  Both my brothers were working or away from the house a lot of the time, trying to make a living and/or escape the madness.  I had no such luck.  I immersed myself in books, school, and other cerebral activities.  If I was in my head, my heart was less attached to the awful situation I lived in.  We got two checks at the beginning of the month, every month.  Disability and child support.  We lived like Kings and Queens for the first couple of weeks.

The problem is that Thanksgiving and Christmas come at the end of the month.  When I was 9 years old, I didn’t eat on Christmas Day.  Nothing.  Not over-cooked turkey.  Not mushy stuffing.  Not even gross gelatinized cranberry sauce.  Not. Any. Thing.

When I was 10, we got on some sort of list that delivered food baskets for the holidays.  We also got presents that year.  I got a jacket.  And a toy, I think.  I remember my mom asking me what I wanted, and I felt uncomfortable asking for anything.  I didn’t know who was giving me a present, and I certainly didn’t think it was right to *ask* for anything when they were being generous by giving me anything at all.  I would be happy with what I got.  And at the end of the day, that’s something that’s never changed.

When I was 11 years old, I got a bike.  Someone, a stranger, bought me a bicycle.  A 12-speed.  I was floored.  When I was 13 I got make-up and a journal to write in.  The very first entry I made in that journal was that, someday, when I was older, I would do the same thing for a kid who was in need.

When I was 13 years old, I understood these things:

  • Life isn’t fair.  And you had to deal with it.
  • Poverty existed, and I was living it, but “poor” was a state of mind.
  • The best gift you can give or get is love.
  • Regular people had the power to do extraordinary things.
  • Although adults make really bad choices that make their lives the way they are, children suffer.  A lot.
  • The kindness of strangers can literally change someone’s life (and it’s changed my life a number of times).

By the time I was 14 years old, I lived with my dad.  We didn’t have a lot.  I’d even say that we still lived below the poverty line – but we were not poor.  We chose to make do with what we had instead of going on welfare.  My daddy sacrificed so I could have little things.  I did without, sometimes, so my dad still had money to go out and have adult space.

Fast forward to adulthood.  Those bell ringers you see?  I give whatever change I have in my pocket or purse to them.  And my daughter does the same.  I was in line at the grocery store, once, and a woman wasn’t able to pay for her Christmas meal (ham, potatoes and stuffing), so I paid for it.

But the tradition I have that is the most important to me is “The Giving Tree.”  (If you don’t know what that is, go to your local grocery store and find the Christmas tree that’s normally near the service/customer service desk.  There will be a tree that has little paper ornaments on it.  You can choose a name, go buy a present, bring the name and present back to the store and they will get it to the child.)
I go to the store every Christmas, and pick a name off the tree.  I look through the names and almost always find a name of a child who reminds me of myself, at that age: a girl about 11-14 who has general interests listed but no specifics.  I look, hard, for a gift that matches those interests and bring it back.  Sometimes it’s been a diary.  Sometimes a winter coat.  Sometimes an art kit.  Every year I do this.

That is what Christmas is.  Christmas is the act of giving.  It’s the act of giving to make someone else’s life better, without the expectation of receiving and without the sense of obligation.  I do this every year because I said, when I was 13 years old, that I would.  If you’re looking for Christ in your Christmas, this is where you find Him.  In giving.

I was moved to write this post after reading The Bloggess’ post about how she gives, and the suggestions she makes for her readers.  She inspired me.  And I hope I inspire you, this year, to give.  It doesn’t have to be money.  Give of your heart.  Give of your time.  Be kind.  Love people.  That is the spirit of Christmas.  Everything else is just noise.


22 thoughts on “This is the meaning of Christmas

  1. Read this post on my phone standing outside a Barnes and Noble. Then went in, harrassed the staff until they explained to me exactly how their donations worked, checked out the charity (again, on my phone), grabbed 3 books and paid for and donated them.

    Thanks for a moving post.
    If I may, I’d like to link to and reference this in a post with some of my reflections on the holiday season.

  2. That thrills me, Guapo. I would be absolutely honored if you shared my post.

    And good for you for checking out the charity! I find that I’m too skeptical of some of them, so I stick with what I know.

    I hope you have a wonderful holiday. And I join many in thanking you for your generosity this Christmas. 🙂

    • Thanks, and it was you that moved me to give.
      Usually I’m pretty curmudgeonly. And lazy.

      Hope my post is ok with you (it’s up now).
      If there’s anything you object to, let me know, I’ll be happy to change it.

      Hope the season (and every day after) brings you nothing but joy.

      • I’m very touched. Thank you, so much, for your generosity. It’s just absolutely amazing that anything I could ever write would move anyone to do anything. But I’m so honored that I was able to inspire such selflessness. Thank you.

  3. Pingback: A Serious Thought About The holiday Season | Guapola

  4. I got to your post by way of El Guapo. I, too, tire of the commercialization and boorish behavior of many around this time of year. Thank you for a wonderful post to help us all remember the true meaning of the season.

    • Thank you so much for reading and commenting. I think it’s easy, at this time of year, to get caught up in the momentum of the season. I like to remind myself, and others, to slow down and remember what the season *should* be about, even if it isn’t what the season *is* about, anymore.

      I appreciate your kind words. Thank you!

  5. Wow. I am moved. I always find it impressive to hear about folks who are who they are despite where they’ve come from. My place is not nearly like yours but I have worked hard to overcome the trajectory I was on. And like you, I feel like most of what people do to celebrate the holidays is bullshit. The spirit of Christmas has nothing to do with drowning in debt to buy crap for every Tom, Dick and Harry that’s crossed your path (nothing personal Tom, Dick and Harry). I’ve been fighting against it since my son has been old enough to understand that people buy gifts for the holidays. And since we’re Jewish, Christmas isn’t even ours. And no, Chanukah is not for getting presents for eight days. It’s become that because Jews weren’t comfortable with how they celebrated. They wanted to be like the Christmas celebrators.

    To celebrate Thanksgiving, I wanted my boys to recognize how fortunate they are. I gave them each $50 to spend at a thrift store. They were charged with finding clothing for kids who needed winter stuff. We left the store with 2 winter coats, 2 pairs of gloves, two pairs of winter boots, fuzzy slippers, warm pajamas and a couple of sweatshirts. They then brought the clothing to an organization who can make sure they’ll be given out well. I was really proud of them and proud of myself despite the eyerolling I encountered along the way.

    The sad part is that on Monday after the Thansgiving weekend, my son came home from school very sad. At sharing time, all he had to talk about was how he went to the thrift store while everyone else already started their Christmas shopping. I’m pushing a boulder uphill and it keeps rolling back down on me. I am optimistic that some of what I’m trying to impart makes even a tiny impression. This is our Thanksgiving tradition…that and running the Turkey trot 5k.

    Thank you for sharing. It’s nice to know that others (including your repliers) are bothered by the way it is. It’s also important to remember that every tiny bit helps. Happy Holidays!

    • I’m so glad you shared that with me, for a few reasons:
      #1 – Not everyone is Christian. BFF#1 follows Jehovah, and another very good friend of mine is an atheist, in every sense of the word. Now, we don’t crap on each other about our individual beliefs. Actually, BFF#1 has shared her faith, here and there, when I ask or when she feels that guidance is needed. I find that to be a true blessing. So it really bites my ass when people are like, “It’s wrong not to say Merry Christmas.” Hey, listen, punks, not everyone believes as you do. And if the true spirit of the holiday is based off Jesus (they way they claim), well then you’re really missing the point of his message. He taught tolerance. He kept company with criminals and whores. If Jesus did it, maybe you could show a little grace. Just a soapbox, I know. But I am SO glad you commented on that.

      #2 – My daughter has watched me give, of my heart, since she was a baby. Homeless people, panhandlers, street musicians, and the bell ringers. If I have it to give, I will. I buy the guy behind me a Starbucks when I’m in the drive thru, every now and then. Why? Because it feels good. And because the small thing I do now makes a *huge* difference on the back end in someone’s life. I’m so proud of you for teaching that to your sons. It’s funny, I think one of the best things we can ever do for our children is show them the other side of the coin. Teach them the lesson of love through example and through service.

      #3 – Mountains and molehills. My path and yours may very well be different, but it is about breaking negative patterns of behavior. If the journey you were on was taking you to a place you didn’t like, then who cares how bad it was. Thank God you changed it! For yourself and your family! Every one of us has a purpose and it is our responsibility to make sure we are open to fulfilling it. It might be small, or it might change the future of the world. What I know is that the stranger that gave me a bike, when I was a kid, changed my life forever.

      Thank you for sharing some of your story! And thanks for reading. I’ll tell you what… today is a good day. My cup runneth over. ❤

      • Thank you, theflameinside, for your enthusiasm and your encouragement. I agree with you completely.

        One of my recent accomplishments is to feel thankful to my parents for how they treated me rather than being angry about it. I am thankful to them for teaching me exactly the kind of parent I didn’t want to be and wasn’t going to be. Over the last few weeks, I can’t even count how many times my son has been lucky that I’m not my father. Putting spin on that perspective – finding the good in the bad – has been a great thing…so much so that people around me have commented on seeing a new-found contentedness or calmness in me. How nice it is to project that. I can’t imagine what the other must have looked like.

        Aside from being a stay-at-home mother who’s starting a contracting business, I spend most of my time volunteering. Very little about my life is conventional and I think my boys admire it. I try to live the values I want them to have. When they have a day off from school, I’ll try to arrange for them to volunteer somewhere and I invite their friends so they don’t feel bad about not hanging out. I guess only time will tell how they feel about where they’ve come from and what kind of spin they’ll want to put on their childhoods. They won’t be able to say they weren’t loved enough or well-respected.

  6. What an inspiring post. I didn’t have a hard childhood like you did, but I didn’t have a perfect one either. My dad owned a construction business, so we were either “rich” or poor… This post reminds me to be thankful of what I did have, and to give back. This year we have already decided to not buy anything for each other and have been looking for a way to give back. We are all going to pick someone from the tree and get them a special and meaningful gift, thanks for the great idea!

    • I’ve found that no one has had the perfect childhood. We all seem to have our crosses to bear, you know? What matters is what we do with it.
      I am honored that my post would prompt such a selfless act of compassion. I hope it becomes a tradition for you!
      Thank you for reading. And thank you for paying it forward. You’re an unsung hero!

  7. Simply well done. During the holidays I find stories that touch me. This year it was the ones who work at the NYC Post Office who read letters to Santa, select the ones that move them the most, and then get the gifts so they can be delivered at Christmas. Groups in other post offices do similar things, including a group here in Cincinnati.

    Christmas is a Christian holiday, and one that Christians seem to forget. On the other hand, Christmas also carries a spirit of giving that transcends across society without a religious connection – thus a reason why many nonChristians participate in giving – especially to the needy.

    • Thank you for your kind words! I agree – it’s easy to get caught up in the momentum of the season and forget what life is about.

      Anyone who takes the time to do something, anything, for the benefit of another amazes me. Lord knows, I’ve been on the receiving end of such compassion many times in my life. Especially as a child. Strangers have, at least twice, literally saved my life. And the kindness of people I’ve never met or will never see again still overwhelms me. It’s an amazing tribute to them when I give back every opportunity I get.

      Thanks for reading and sharing!

  8. Thanks, I needed those beautiful, inspiring words of yours! I’ll be seeking out a giving tree this year and will encourage others to do so too! I’m thankful to El Guapo for sending me other here!

    • Wow! I can’t even tell you how this one post on my little ole blog has lifted me.

      I’ve been through so much, in my life, that I sometimes feel like I’m just whining. And believe me when I say that every single thing that has happened to me has been for a purpose.

      As the comments have come in, I can’t help but to feel the joy of love that is being spread because of what I’ve written. It’s just amazing. Thank you for reading and for the kindness you’ll show the kids in need in your community.

  9. Pingback: Opinions in the Shorts: Vol. 121 « A Frank Angle

  10. Hello. I came to your post through another blogger (aFrankangle) and was deeply moved. I come from a similar background and I connected to your heart immediately. I too wrote a blog post about Christmas. If you get a chance, please stop by and check it out. It is from a humorous point of view but its jumping off point is from a similar place as yours. In fact, I’d love to know what you think about it (“I’ll Be Home for Christmas”).

    Merry Christmas to you and yours. So glad I found you.

    • I’m so touched that you would connect with me. I’m reminded, often, that the things I’ve been through have given other people strength, when I share my own past. Thanks for reading! And I’ll check out your blog, too!

  11. Frank is doing a good job of sending us here! I too am very touched by your post. Since I am a musician, we try to give the gift of live music every year; I’m a big believer of giving the gifts of talent, whatever that may be. Thanks for a great post. I have some original Christmas music on my blog that you might enjoy, mostly about celebrating in the heart regardless of outer circumstances. T

    • Thank you for reading! It’s been so wonderful to hear from so many like-minded, kind people.
      I agree with sharing your gift. In my not-so-spare time I also photograph. I love doing it. I give it away, at times, or I charge very very little. Because it’s something I love and because God blessed me with the talent, I don’t feel right charging for it.
      But that’s just it – I’ve been given so many talents. Photography, writing, guidance (as it turns out, I suck at seeing my own way out, but I’m great at helping others)… I try to share as much of that as I can. We were all put here to make the earth better. And music is one of the very best ways to do that.
      As Will Smith’s character in “I Am Legend” said about Bob Marley, “He believed that you could cure racism and hate…literally cure it, by injecting music and love into people’s lives.” That’s what you do. What an amazing thing. 🙂

  12. Pingback: There Goes The Neighborhood… | Guapola

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