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.