A Different Kind Of Christmas

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” the old song says. It is funny, but when you are out shopping, it certainly doesn’t seem like it. “So, don’t wait until the 23rd,” I can hear you saying. I didn’t. I went out on the 22nd this year. I am not sure why, I just noticed A LOT of really stressed out people. There was one woman in Penney’s who looked like she hadn’t slept in a month, on the verge of tears, loudly telling someone on the the other end of the phone, “I just hate Christmas”.

I’m often that guy. The consumerism of the season completely overwhelms me, and I forget that there is a lot of happiness and joy to be found in the magic of Christmas. My own son is nearing his 22nd birthday. There isn’t excitement about presents and waking up early and putting out cookies and carrots for our midnight visitors. I do, however, have lots of little nieces and nephews that I can live the joy through, if I look.

As I type, I am watching a news TV show that just announced that Kohl’s had been over for over 100 straight hours. There was all sorts of hullabaloo when the Galleria Mall in Buffalo announced it would be open on Thanksgiving Day, and it leaked that the mall would fine stores that did not open that day. It’s easy to get lost in the bad parts of Christmas, and it’s often difficult to find the joy through all of the noise.

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Presents for the family we adopted.

This year, we tried something different and it helped revive the season for me. There is a strong belief in our family that we are very fortunate in life. We survived some really bad things in life, and even in the past 5-6 years when the economy left some casualties in the form of people losing jobs or being economically ruined, we were spared all of that.

Each year, my wife Linda volunteers through her company at St. Luke’s Mission of Mercy, a local mission that serves the abject poor and the homeless. Each year our family also participates in a gift exchange. We are a large and close family, so it would be impossible to buy for everyone. A gift exchange makes sense.

After her volunteer experience this year, Linda came home and suggested that maybe, for this year, instead of buying gifts for each other, we all take the money we would normally spend on each other and adopt a family in need this year. So, we did. We adopted a family of seven, and spent all of the money we would have spent on gifts for each other on presents for them. They provided a list of things they wanted and the list was filled with things like bedding and socks. I was touched by the self-awareness and humility in that. The shoppers in our group, of course, bought all of those things, but also found some room in the budget for some toys for the kids.

Christmas caroling at a nursing home.

Christmas caroling at a nursing home.

Another Christmas tradition for us, it’s been probably 10-15 years, is that we rent a limo bus, and we go Christmas Caroling. We start the evening by going to nursing homes where our family members are now living and it brings such enormous joy to the residents of the facilities. There have been people we’ve visited over the years who could not remember the names of their loved ones, or who don’t talk much at all, but who could remember the words of the carols and sing along. There has not been a year, in all of them, that I have not gotten choked up at the reaction of people to such a little thing on our part. All of the musicians in the family bring their instruments and play along. It’s awesome.

Life is full of people worse off than we are. This experiment we tried this year was filled with a double positive. It gave joy to someone, who without us, might not have had a Merry Christmas. For us it added joy, knowing that we made the world a little bit better place. We have everything we need. We have roofs over our heads, cars in our driveways, and food on our tables. We’ve got a family that is filled with love and generosity, and I know that I am proud to be a part of it.

One of the reasons that our family is in a spirit of giving is that the older generations TAUGHT us to give of ourselves. They taught us that the world doesn’t center around us. They taught us that we should be grateful for what we have, because things could always be way worse than they are. We’ve lived through some of those worse times. You have to teach younger generations the importance of generosity and community service. I truly believe it is so important to give of yourself to lead a happy life. I think it is so important, I included an entire chapter on it in my book.

Tonight, we’ll gather as a family, we’ll pray, and we’ll break bread. And that is all of the gift I need for the season. The gift of family and of love. I hope it is the same for you.

What tradition could you add to make generosity and service a part of your family holiday traditions?