Christmas is my favorite time of the year. I have always loved it, the lights, the smells of cooking goodies throughout the month. But with it also comes many reasons to feel overwhelmed. Trying to get it all done, especially when you have children as well can be daunting and tear producing. We all have these picture perfect images of Christmas in our minds. Tables laid out with all the finest china and silverware, perfectly matched place settings. Food to feed a 3rd world country displayed like a buffet. Meanwhile we wait with baited breath to hear the compliments of our talent and genius.
We overload our trees with presents that will take us months to pay for, the best , the biggest, the most expensive. We tell our children they don’t get everything they want but work our hardest to make sure we fulfill every wish on their list. I know I was guilty of it myself for many years. Until I realized that I was losing my excitement over the season. I dreaded the holidays, or at least the shopping and gathering. I loathed the wrapping and tagging and squeezing that one more thing under the tree, especially when 20 minutes after the paper was torn they would be bored and moved on to something else.
As I have said before every Christmas Eve we would all gather at mom’s and exchange gifts with her and with each other’s families. This year I am only buying for mine. I told my sisters that all of us have enough money issues dealing with our direct line without having to feel guilty trying to find something for each other. Not to mention I don’t need or really want anything. I want my kids healthy and happy. I want the adults to gather and share memories of our childhoods with our children through pictures and stories, knowing now how important those family memories are when a central figure in the traditions has left the fold.
I want my kids to not expect a lot and be grateful for what they get. Last year, when mom was in the hospital on Christmas Eve, my children would not be content with staying home. Every year of their lives they had spent Christmas Eve with Memaw, and hospital or not this was not going to change. I am grateful now that we went, that they had that last moment with her. But it was what we were a part of AFTER we left the hospital that let me know we were supposed to go. Every time we went we would stop at a local gas station called Thortons. I always got my peppermint mocha and this night was no exception. When we pulled to the front of the store there was an older man with snow white hair sitting on the brick half wall at the front of the store. He had on a ski vest that was in rough shape, a thermal shirt that was in rough shape, old jeans that were thin and no socks and shoes that had seen their share of walking. It was apparent he was homeless, but he was polite to the kids when they got out of the car and smiled and nodded at them, wishing them a Merry Christmas. My oldest nodded and said, ” well not too merry, our memaw is in the hospital and that is where we just came from. She is not doing real well.” The man’s face fell and he said, ” I am sorry son, I will pray for her tonight”. He turned to look at me and asked if I had a cigarette and before I could move Doug had reached in the car and got his partial pack out and handed them to the man. The man smiled and told him he shouldn’t smoke it was a nasty habit as his hands took one out to light. Doug pushed the pack at him and said, ” No you have them you need them more than I do.” The man attempted to refuse before giving in and sliding them into the pocket of the ski vest. We all walked into the store and I watched as my boys scrambled for various areas. Jesse came up to me after making a cup of coffee and said ‘mom tell the counter guy you are gonna pay for this okay’, as he ran out the door to take it to the man out front. We put our purchases on the counter and headed back to the car, where Devin pulled out the big bag of chips he had purchased and handed them to the man as well. It was nearly like the 3 wise men for me. No I am not saying this man was Jesus, but he was certainly an angel sent to remind me of what Christmas was really about. To show me that at some point I had taught my children the right things, even if sometimes it seems as if they had forgotten them. The man’s blue eyes glistened with tears as he accepted my kids love and gifts. His voice trembling with a meek thank you as he hugged them each. He looked me and Gene in the eye and said, ” They give me hope for the future. Because I see a lot more people who turn their noses up at me because I am what I am, who pull their kids away in fear as if I will snatch them up and eat them. Your boys gave without question and they know the truth of Christmas. It is giving a gift so big to someone who surely didn’t earn it.” I hugged him and wished him a Merry Christmas, wishing I could do more.
The tears flowed in the car, my heart swelling with pride at the unselfishness of my babies. The realization that even though our family was changing forever as we knew it we still understood the basic truth of love. Love itself never dies. It only grows. It can only die when it is held onto like a prized bird in a gilded cage. Love has no price tag for its true worth is only known to the person who receives it. It cannot be packaged, it cannot be stolen from. It gives without thought to itself. Love sees through the ashes and rough parts of life and shines in the spots where darkness may have attempted to take up residence. It flings open the shutters of life, swings open the doors and asks for anyone in need to come. It was worth so much yet chose to present itself in the lowly abode of a cave with some livestock.
I want that feeling to roost in my house this year. I don’t want a fancy dinner. I want my family and friends to gather, to exchange the gift of love and memories. To make some simple soups and sandwiches and choose to enjoy each other instead of being a rush to get home and do more work. I want to take a deep breath together and acknowledge how powerful basking in love can be. That is what I want for Christmas..