A Few Thoughts: Christmas

Xmas.  Yule.  Winter Solstice.  Giftmas.  Whatever you want to call it.  Yesterday, I talked a little about my perspective on the so-called (and inappropriately named) “War on Xmas”.  This time around, I want to write a little more on how I actually view this holiday “season” – because my perspective hasn’t always been the same, and continues to change over the years.  And this year is no exception to that “rule”…

Growing up, the Xmas holiday season was similar to the concept of Giftmas.  Yes, there was the traditional aspects of the holiday – such as the celebration of the Feast of Saint Nikolaus.  My german mother would have me and my sister place our shoes outside the front door.  The next morning, we would find gifts in our shoes…such as Kinder Schokolade (a German milk-chocolate candy that I still crave as an adult) or if we were bad, we would end up with switches (tree branches) which our parents were supposed to utilize as punitive measures against our bad behavior.  Then, when the actual night of Christmas rolled around, we (the children) were sent to bed early…and allowed to awaken shortly after midnight to see what Santa had left.  We were then allowed to open a single present during that time – with the rest left to be opened in the morning.  When we lived in Germany, we generally left the Christmas Day presents to be opened when Oma and Opa (German for grandmother and grandfather) came over.  Typically, Santa would also have dropped off presents at their house for all of us as well – as well as dropping off presents for Oma and Opa at our house.  Of course, as we grew older – we learned how all these presents ended up at different places – and the tradition of Christmas truly morphed into the concept of Giftmas.

Once I joined the military, I was introduced to a different concept – that of the Christmas dinner.  I remember a particular Christmas holiday, where all of us in the dorm got together to see who has leaving for Christmas with parents and family elsewhere – and who was staying behind.  The fifteen of us that stayed behind all were assigned work duties at our respective duty assignments, so we coordinated our schedules together to determine when a Christmas dinner would be appropriate together.  As it turned out, the time was 11am on December 26th, but that didn’t matter too much to us. It was more the idea of having a meal together.  We all got assignments for the meal and each took a trip to the Base commissary for the food items (I had bread rolls – and with my cooking skills having been known was told to get the packaged rolls, along with butter).  We all got simple gifts for one another (I was known for typically having a Dr. Pepper in my hand most of the time – and was gifted with two twelve packs).  Honestly on salaries that ranged from E1 to E4, we didn’t have much in the way of money…but it was our time together during that meal that made that particular holiday special.

Moving forward – over the past seven or so years – I’m not one to really celebrate any particular aspect of this “holiday” season.  Typically, I’ll make a small meal of a crock-pot ham and spend most of the holiday either reading or watching the History channel (my favorite channel, by the way).  But this year has been feeling a little different to me.  I’ve already planned to make two different Christmas dinners, and have started looking towards something I’ve tried to make a part of any holiday celebration over the past few years – volunteering at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen.  I’ve done this a few times with somewhat mixed results.  I tend to enjoy my time more when I get a chance to mingle with the folks receiving the help, as well as with the other volunteers.  I’ve started to find something enjoyable in helping other folks.

But there’s still one thing I’ve always been uncomfortable with during this holiday season.  Gifts.  Not giving them – oh definitely not.  I enjoy seeing the smiles on people’s faces when they get a small gift from me.  I’m not the richest soul in the world (come on – a teacher’s salary is one of the most finite things on this planet), so my gifts are generally not much.  But I still like giving the gifts.  No, its the receiving of gifts that bothers me.  I’ve never been good at getting things from people – at least in my adult life.  When I was kid – it was awesome getting gifts.  I remember shredding paper like you wouldn’t believe, just to see what was inside.  But now?  I do get uncomfortable with it.  I’m not sure if its because I worry about the monetary value of the item (most people I know are not made of money, and I do worry about how much something may have set them back) or if its because I wonder what strings will be attached with the gift…or what else.  I just now I get an uncomfortable feeling.  maybe its because I know I’m somewhat difficult to buy for, as well.  This year, I made a few simple requests – a RAM upgrade for the iMac, a portable hard-drive (my two expensive items), a hard cover for my iPhone, a handful of books, and an iTunes gift card (for music purchases – mostly Dave Brubeck albums – may that Jazz genius rest in peace).  But I’ve had many other folks request for more items on that wish list…

…which led me to make the following request:  give your time to a homeless shelter or a soup kitchen for a few hours.  That would be a gift I would truly appreciate – as would so many others.  This holiday season is about giving and sharing.  So give.  Your time is just as important as any monetary donation you could/would make.  The past year-plus has been hard – hard on everyone.  Hang the fscking politics.  Hang trying to place the blame for the monetary positions that governments find themselves in.  This isn’t about that.  Its about helping the people who don’t have enough.  Do you know someone without a job during this time?  Invite them and their family over for Christmas dinner.  Send the leftovers home with THEM.  Trust me, it would be greatly appreciated by them.  Sure – that’s not a soup kitchen, but its helping SOMEONE.  And trust me, the smiles they generate for you, the heartful hugs they give to you – those will warm your toes far more than a mugful of hot chocolate will.

I think back on many of the Christmas holidays that I’ve had.  One sticks out in my mind the most – when my girlfriend at the time – Joni – invited me, my roommate at Carswell and one of my friends from Carswell to her apartment for Christmas dinner.  Her and her mother made an EXCELLENT Christmas dinner.  Essentially, they adopted us for that dinner.  It was great.  The food was far better than we were going to get in the chow-hall.  And it was an inspiration for the “homeless airmen” dinner we had in the dorms two years later.  I remember snowball fights after dinner with my German cousins back when I was kid.  I remember volunteering to work the Christmas holidays every year – so the married members of the unit could spend that time with their families…and the cold ham dinners that our branch Chief would bring to us on Christmas night.  And the stories he would tell us about burned Turkey that his branch Chief brought to him on Christmas Eves that he worked.

For me, the gifting aspect of Christmas is a nice tradition.  Its a manner of showing the people in your Life that you care about them.  But this year, I’m off to start a new tradition for myself – giving to total strangers.  Showing them that there is a world out there that actually gives a shit about how they feel during this holiday.  We spend far too much time wringing our hands and fretting over stuff that is far beyond our control – and far too little time caring about the people around us – even the ones we don’t know at all.  Sure, I understand that there are scammers out there – as evidenced by the man that a NYC police officer bought shoes for.  So what?  That’s that dude’s karma.  The NYC police officer showed that giving and caring about people is something we can all take note of…and all participate in.  I’d much rather have the karma of the officer that cared…even if the individual he helped didn’t need that assistance whatsoever.  Its still the fact that the officer reached out.  He won’t be able to buy every single person he encounters a new pair of shoes…but hopefully someone else who can, would do the same for another person in need.

Random acts of kindness…personally, I’d like to see these four words become the definition of who we are as human beings.  It might be wishful thinking – but I’d rather work off the wish and be hopeful, than sit back, do nothing, and let my hear be hardened from the cynicism.  $.02 – your mileage will likely vary…

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