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?

Get Involved This Year

The very first post that I wrote for this blog was titled “Try Charity and Community Service” and it laid out the benefits of getting involved in an organization that benefits others, or in a project that makes the community a better place to live. I refrained from doing an obligatory  New Year’s resolution post as the calendar clicked from 2012 to 2013, because you are here and that means you are smart and focused, so you already know that value of making goals (that’s really all a New Year’s resolution is. It’s a goal or a set of goals wrapped around a calendar date.)

Well, here’s a simple, high impact goal for 2013. Get involved with something. Anything. Join a new club for something that interests you. Maybe that digital photography club will help you learn what all those buttons are in your new camera. Maybe joining a snowshoeing club will help you to find some new locations to help you stay or get in shape in the winter months. A gourmet club might help you enjoy your love of food and teach you how to eat healthier.

B-Team Buffalo at their “City of Light” Event

Maybe, it’s a charitable thing you should do. Reach out to your favorite charity and see if they need help. Maybe something bad happened in 2012, and you can make something good come out of it. In 1995 when our daughter Rebecca died, my wife Linda wanted to make something good come out of it. She volunteered at “Make-A-Wish” and was so passionate about it and good at it that they eventually hired her. There are all sorts of great organizations out there that you can work with, and they address every imaginable need….homelessness, poverty, illnesses, women, children, missions in other countries, old building preservation, ethnic heritage, and so many more. The opportunities are available through schools, church groups, not-for-profits or just by searching the internet using your interest(s) and the town or city you live in.

The benefits of getting involved in these extra activities are numerous. It gives you an opportunity to network and meet new people. It gives you the opportunity for people to see you in action and learn how great you are. It gives you the opportunity to learn new skills or sharpen the ones that you already have. Any volunteer experience looks great on a resume. Finally, and most importantly, it gives you the opportunity to be a part of something that is bigger than yourself. You get to make an impact or make your community better. If all of us approached life with the idea of making our communities better, imagine what the world would look like.

If you don’t see something that you are interested in. Create your own. My friend, Landscape Architect, Joy Kuebler saw that our “play it safe” approach to playground design and building was stifling creativity in kids, so she and a small group of her friends designed the “Pop up Playground”. She told us all about it at TEDxBuffalo 2012 , which is one of my passions that I pursued and made a great group of friends by helping with three different TEDx conferences in Buffalo over the last 2 years.

My friend, Matt Carlucci liked to do good things to make the City of Buffalo a better place, He and his best friend went out and created the B-Team Buffalo, and they clean up neighborhoods, and they light up a neighborhood for Christmas, and they even just provide volunteers for other groups’ events. Matt loves soup…. so he went on to create The Buffalo Soup Fest which showcases local restaurants and raises money for charity. Matt doesn’t sit around and wait for opportunities to get involved. He creates his own.

So, if you are going to do one thing this New Year, get involved at something new. Join a board or be a worker bee, it makes no difference. It gets you out, you can make new friends and you can benefit both yourself and the community. Get busy……now.

It’s Your Brand

I don’t remember exactly when the Buzzword factory churned out the word “brand” and all of its accessory words. Now the word and the concept are firmly entrenched in the American vernacular. Simply put, a brand is anything that the customer sees and/or hears and thereby identifies with your business. It is what your business stands for. Continue reading

Try Charity and Community Service

I was walking through the grocery store this morning when I ran into one of my friends who is running a big fundraising event this evening. It’s an event for families who have been touched with Multiple Sclerosis. MS is a debilitating neurological disease that can cause patients great pain and loss of motor function as the disease progresses. Not only is it a horrible disease for the patient, but also for the caregivers who have to watch their loved ones go through the painful degenerative progression of the disease. Continue reading