When I was a child, the holiday season could most certainly be described by using one word...Magical. Pure and maybe not exactly simple, there was no other word that could describe it so well. My mother and my family went to great lengths to make sure that Christmas was always filled with surprises. It left us thrilled and rarely was there any kind of disappointment hiding around the corner. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't that we were spoiled and got everything we asked for, but was more of the opposite. Though, we generally got something that we asked for, we usually ended up with things we didn't even know we wanted. This was because my mother knew what we wanted more than we did.
Times were hard for us as a kid, and money was not something of which we had any extra to buy gifts. My mother took on babysitting jobs, had garage sales and did side jobs just to make sure we were able to get some gifts. All of us knew how hard she worked to make it happen, and Christmas morning never failed to bring us many surprises beyond our expectations. Sometimes, a family member would give us something hand-made like a cherished afghan from my Grandma or the year my sister sewed a full wardrobe of clothing for my Barbie dolls by hand. Sometimes the gift was second-hand, but we didn't know or care. Everything was meaningful and wrapped up special for us, and it was clear how much she and the rest of my family cared from the heart. We had aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, all sharing in the joy of the season.
We wanted lots of presents under our tree and had dreams of bicycles, record players or that crazy ride-on horse that you jump on and it walks (which rumor has it that I rode one time despite wanting it more than anything I ever wanted in my young life), and that was yet another reminder that my mom actually knew what I wanted more than I ever did. There was always more to it at my house because there was a lot of time spent doing something special for each other.
When I was 12, I took ceramic painting lessons from a local art teacher who owned a craft store in my neighborhood near where my mom worked. I went to the classes after school a few times per week. One day, I had the most exciting idea: I would use that time in my painting classes to make presents for my family. It was thrilling to be able to wrap a gift for everyone from me. I also spent a lot of time at home completing the gifts, and I meticulously painted something for everyone in our family. The feeling that I was able to make them each something special was incredible.
As I grew up and had kids of my own, I always tried to make it that special for my kids as well. Whether I accomplished that as much as my mom did when I was a kid, all I can do is hope. However, I began to feel that something was missing from the season, something very important. Don't get me wrong, Christmas is full of joy, love and lots of fun in my family. I wouldn't give that up for anything in the world. But there was something that was missing. No gift or package given or received seemed to fill that piece of my heart that was missing since childhood. I realized, I was missing Santa Claus. What was my problem? I was an adult, I was not supposed to need Santa. He only brings gifts for kids. Why do I feel so sad and have such a longing? I am a big girl now, I am supposed to take care of myself. Doesn't Santa just let you go when you are an adult? As rebellious as I wanted to be against the idea of needing Santa, I found myself missing Santa more than I ever imagined.
Then one Christmas when my kids were young, we were going through some very rough economic times. Things were very tight and gifts were out of the question. It was okay for my youngest, she was just a baby, but I was very disappointed in the fact that we couldn't do anything. I felt the Christmas spirit just melt away. A friend of mine found out about this and she organized a group of other moms that we knew online. They took it upon themselves to send a bunch of gifts our way. It was absolutely amazing, I was completely overwhelmed with such a joyous, heartwarming feeling, not because of the “stuff”, no absolutely not. But it was because of the thought that went into buying gifts for my family, from people I hadn't ever met. I began to feel a glimmer of what that missing feeling I had in my heart was, it was the true meaning of the season, the spirit of Christmas, and it is what Santa Claus is really all about. It is about giving of yourself and making a difference, even if it is for one small family living on the other side of the world.
After that year, I really began doing more for others during the holiday season, and made sure our family donated something each and every year since then. Though I had given in the past somewhat, I realized how one small thing we do right now can possibly make a tremendous difference in the life of another.
A few years after this had happened, we found ourselves in another kind of rough time. My husband had been laid off and I had been in a car accident and had suffered a serious concussion a few months before. Due to this, I wasn't able to work and I actually don't have much recollection of the time in September after my accident until early December. We knew it was rough, but we were in this together and we had much for which to be grateful. He would find a job eventually, and I was slowly getting better. Christmas gifts would be lean, but it was okay. We were able to buy a few gifts, and other years would be better, brighter. I found that year I was just going through the motions of the season, and really just wanted it to be over.
About a week before Christmas that year, I was in a local department store parking lot, and on the ground I found a $20 bill. My first thought was that it wasn't mine, and I looked around and saw no one nearby. I picked the money up, thinking how it could buy a gift or two, but instead I had a better thought, I put it in the Salvation Army kettle. I wrapped it up small so no one suspected it was more than a dollar. The feeling that enveloped me after I did that was incredible. I realized I was on to something, I began to feel what I had felt as a child at Christmas, the excitement, the thrill. It had been missing from my heart since I was a child. Could it be?
The next day, my husband and I went to Toys R Us with our children, so that they could pick out a small $5 gift for each other. My daughter, who was 3 at the time, found a Barbie scooter in the store which she decided she would ride around all the aisles in the store. She was absolutely thrilled to ride it, and fell in love with that scooter. She looked so sweet with her blonde curls bouncing and the big smile plastered between her rosy cheeks, as she rode around the store on the scooter like a pink blur. She caught the attention of a shopper who watched closely as my daughter charmed all those who passed by because she was just so darn cute. The shopper then said to me “Oh, you have to get that for her for Christmas, it is the perfect gift”. I smiled at her and said “Yes it is, but we already got their gifts this year, it will have to wait.” The shopper looked at me and said “Oh, but it was meant for her, look how much she loves it”. I agreed and told her that maybe we would get that next year, and that times were a little tight. I told her how that was okay since we already shopped for the kids.
As we walked out of the store, the shopper approached me from the parking lot and said to me “Your daughter has to have that scooter for Christmas, I insist!” and she firmly pushed some money into my hand, which I handed back saying, “Oh no, really we will be fine, they have gifts." But, she would not take it back, instead she held my hands together and said to me “I really want to do this, please take this, it will be my gift, I won some money from the lottery, and I want to do this more than anything. There is also some extra for your boys”. She gave me a hug as I stood there, protesting through tears, overwhelmed with this kindness from a stranger, telling her how much we appreciated it but couldn't possibly take it. She told me that she would not hear of anything else. I was stunned. What was this from the heart of a stranger? This was kindness from someone who didn't know anything about me. This is where Christmas spirit comes from, the magic that is Santa Claus, this was the true meaning of giving.
This year I found myself bogged down with life, the usual stuff with deadlines, appointments, commitments and events, it leads to stress, stress and more stress. I once again felt like the spirit wasn't quite with me, despite the beautiful lights and cheery decorations. For many of us this year, in fact for probably most of us, the economic times have us down. There is so much bad news. I have many friends who have lost their homes this year, or are in the process of losing, or are trying find a job after being laid off, or taking pay cuts to keep their jobs but unable to make ends meet. Many of these same people are going hungry or are without healthcare, and don't qualify for help because it appears they have a good income. Then there are the stories of gang violence that have been so prevelant in our community this year. It is very sad, and hard to feel merry when times are so rough for so many people.
Last week I was feeling a little low and I went out to run an errand in the evening. I saw the huge beautifully lit redwood tree that lights up my local community. It was missing something though, It was such a big tree with dazzling white lights up the side, but yet, it seemed very plain without something on top of it. As I looked at it, something very interesting occurred to me. Hmmm, could it be? I pulled into a store parking lot, and got out of my car to take a good look at the tree. I saw a sight that amazed me and I realized that I had just received my Christmas gift. There on top of the tree was the most sparkling, beautiful, bright light that has ever topped a Christmas tree. It wasn't just any light—it was the full moon, the real full moon in all its glory and it was sitting there on top of the tree, right there for me to see. I took some pictures with my cell phone of the spectacular sight, photos that I will cherish always as symbol of the gift that was given to me that night. I included one of the photos on this article to share.
I sat in my car for a few moments, thrilled to have seen that beautiful sight. Why had I been feeling so sad? I began to remember what Christmas spirit was really about, it was about giving. Had I given of myself this season? I actually volunteer a lot of my time all year long, but did I actually give in the spirit of Christmas, had I opened up my heart to allow Santa Claus to find me? No, not really. I was too busy thinking about what I couldn't buy for others, and what I didn't have instead of appreciating all that I do have, and I all that I can give. Despite the fact that times are rough, I always have change I can spare, I can donate some cans from my cupboard, how about those new toys I got on clearance last year that we don't need? At that moment, I swear as I looked out the window, I saw a red sparkling shimmer of magic dust in a dark corner of the parking lot, and maybe a distant ringing of sleigh bells ... but what I do know for sure is that I felt the joy of Christmas ringing through my heart.
Santa is alive and well, and his spirit lives within us all. He has never left us. We can search all we want, but the only place we need to look is within ourselves, within our hearts. Maybe this is what we need to teach our children, not just to tell them, but to actually have them experience it. If they know first-hand what it is like to help those in need, and how their help makes a real difference, maybe they could make better choices in how they live their own lives. We talk about how Christmas and the holiday season is about giving, but have we shown our own children what that really means, and have we even shown ourselves?
I am talking about all of this as Christmas, because that is my own experience, but I am sure this is a common feeling among all humans no matter what holiday you celebrate, whatever religion you might be, or wherever you are from on our planet. That feeling that is in our hearts, that is the spirit of giving. The best way we can show this to our children is to provide a real example of how the gift is really in the giving, not the receiving. Maybe it would make a world of difference.
Even though we are adults, we really do need Santa. In fact, the world is counting on us to believe.