Don’t Give In To Christmas. Break Traditions. Be The Change
What Christmas Was Like Growing Up
Growing up, our Christmases were big. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t grow up rich by any means. My dad was in management at the paper mill in our small town, and my mom took in ironing for extra money. My older brother and younger sister and I went to Catholic school. We lived modestly.
My mom was an excellent seamstress, so when Christmas came, we had box after box of beautifully sewn clothes. My parents put aside Christmas money all year, and my mom (the voice of reason) had to keep an eye on my dad who wanted to go crazy with the shopping. She managed to keep him reeled in until Christmas Eve when he always managed to sneak out to buy each of us one of the big items that mom had earlier put the kibosh on. He loved Christmas. Mom made sure our gifts were wrapped beautifully and that there were even amounts for each of us to open. Christmas was my favorite holiday.
Continuing Christmas Traditions With My Kids
When I got married and had my own kids, I re-created my childhood Christmases for them. I sewed and crafted, and made sure there was always that one gift for each of them they hadn’t expected they’d receive. I filled stockings with fun, small gifts, and we carried out the traditions of setting cookies out for Santa, opening one gift on Christmas Eve, and waiting until Christmas morning to open the rest.
Our Christmases had been everything I’d known and loved. Until one Christmas when they weren’t.
My divorce and loss of a second income had forced me to take on a second job. Money was tight and my lack of free time made it more difficult to craft gifts. My mom had passed away from leukemia, and my dad had a fatal heart attack shortly after. I was missing them both terribly. My divorce had caused a strain on my relationship with my ex’s parents, although they remained excellent grandparents to my kids.
The heartbeat of my family had crumbled. I was mourning the loss of my parents, was exhausted from working 15 hour days, had fallen behind in bills and had no idea how to pull Christmas off for my kids. They were too young to understand the financial position we were in, and there was no way I was going to let the light in those two pair of beautiful excited blue eyes dim at Christmas because of it.
It’s Not Beginning To Look a Lot Like Christmas
My sister and I went to Goodwill and bought tutus and hats and frilly “dress-up” clothes for my daughter. I found a recipe for Play-Doh and I made tons of it in colors you can’t buy in the store. I bought cookie cutters and rolling pin accessories.
I found cars and trucks for my son that looked brand new that I couldn’t have afforded to buy new. We snuggled and I read them the Night Before Christmas and Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer. We sang Christmas songs. We went sledding and ice skating and invited the neighborhood kids over to build snowmen and have snowball fights.
I wrapped the gifts in newspaper and bright bows. Even though we couldn’t afford a tree, we spent a day making Christmas ornaments from Popsicle sticks, adding paint and glitter. As Christmas got closer, my heart was breaking that I hadn’t done enough, and that they wouldn’t have the Christmases that I’d had at their age.
Christmas Tree Oh Christmas Tree
A few days before Christmas my ex-father-in-law showed up at my door, which was surprising. We exchanged guarded greetings and a bit of uncomfortable chit chat while I nervously waited for him to tell me the purpose of his visit. He finally said, “Well…, I stopped by to see where you want me to put this tree.” He had brought us a beautiful Christmas tree that he brought in and set up for us. I loved that man more that day than I ever had. He stayed for a cup of coffee afterward and we all talked and laughed (and I cried). I have never forgotten that day. Our house smelled like Christmas, and the kids and I hung our handmade ornaments on our beautiful tree.
My sister, my kids and I went to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. It was their first time at church. We fought to compose ourselves when my son asked why there was water in the ashtrays (Catholic churches had holy water outside the doorways). With all the incense and rituals that happen at a Christmas mass, his curiosity was on turbo. His head whipped around every time the choir at the back of the church started in. During a very quiet and respectful moment when the priest, in his ceremonial white robes raised the gold chalice to be blessed, we about lost it when my son asked “Is that God up there on the stage?”
That was years and years ago. My kids are now adults. And you know what’s amazing to me? That very Christmas, the poor one that I stressed over and cried about, the one I didn’t feel I’d done enough, the one I felt they’d been slighted on, that was the Christmas they remembered the most. Thirty plus Christmases have passed since then and both of them agree that, that one was their favorite.
It Takes Courage To Ask For Help
For the past couple months I’ve been worried about my daughter who was recently let go from her job for standing up for something she believed in – something that was right. It has caused a huge financial hardship on her family. She worked in radio and spent a good amount of her time fund-raising for various causes and creating awareness for child abuse, women’s issues, etc. She loved helping her community. She’s a giving, loving person with a huge heart. The realization that my daugher needed help and I wasn’t able to provide it was crippling for me.
That old feeling of shame and sadness that I wasn’t able to do enough started creeping in. Then once again, as it had before in my life, help came unexpectedly.
After trying to make arrangements with their landlord and creditors and getting no cooperation or understanding, my daughter posted a request on social media: “We never thought we’d find ourselves in this position. I’m embarrassed to be asking for help, but if there is anything you can do, it would be so appreciated and when we’re able, paid forward. Also, if you know of anyone looking for web design or marketing, it would be hugely appreciated if you could refer us to them”. Knowing my daughter, I knew how hard that was for her to post and the pride she needed to swallow in order to take care of her son.
I couldn’t believe the messages they received, some of them from childhood friends she hadn’t seen in years. Some were listeners when she was on the radio that she’d never met. Gifts were delivered for my grandson with only the message “Merry Christmas!”. People donated money anonymously thanking her for her contributions to the community. There were people offering words of encouragement who said they had found themselves in a similar position at a time in their life. They had received help and now wanted to pay it forward.
They cried for a solid week (and so did I) for the generosity and outpouring of love they received. The willingness of these people to give without hesitation or need for recognition was inspiring. People who had very little themselves but reached out anyway to help someone in need, and asked nothing in return. I’ve never witnessed such unconditional love and could only send a prayer of gratitude to every single family that helped my daughter and her family. I will never, ever forget their generosity.
Because of people’s kindness, my grandson will have some gifts for Christmas, and by my daughter’s family using a portion of those donations, several other children in need will also be receiving Christmas gifts this year. They had already started what they had promised…to pay it forward.
Silent Night, Holy Night. All is Calm…
This year on Christmas Day my husband and I will be alone. My daughter and grandson live out of state. My son will be traveling over the holidays. My step-daughters and our grandkids live out of town and will be spending Christmas at home with their children. Because of job changes, money is tight for us this year, so we aren’t able to travel to spend Christmas with them, and our gift giving has had to be kept to a bare minimum.
This holiday season has shown me the true meaning of Christmas. I have been humbled and touched beyond words. By having less abundance of money in our lives this year, it has forced me to focus on the blessings we’ve been given and show them the appreciation they deserve. When I spend some quiet time to reflect back on the year, I see those blessings all around me…
- a bill worry taken away by my husband’s unexpected raise
- a friend’s phone call at a time I was feeling really down
- my husband coming home with flowers for me
- the Facetime hours I get to spend re-enacting plane flights with my grandson
- phone calls with my brother that go late into the night
- daily emails from my sister who ends each one with “I Love You”
- my health
- an open invitation from my friend who lives on the beach to come stay with her
- my immediate family, my extended family, my neighbors, my friends
- the connections I’ve made through Women Over Fifty Network
- the opportunity to do what I love to do every day
- the relationship I have with both my children
- my brand new great-niece
Be The Change
My focus in the coming year will be on giving. Smiling. Taking life a little bit slower. Being more understanding, more patient. Believing in myself and believing in others. Doing everything with love. Appreciating what I have.
If you’re spending Christmas alone this year, get snuggly, take out a notepad, and make a list of what you’re thankful for. I think you’ll be surprised at how full your life really is once you start to count your blessings.
Money comes and money goes. All it does is buy new things or pay for things you’ve already bought. It has value, but it’s cold and can be heartless. Appreciate the little things in life. Friends and family cost nothing, they can never be replaced, and they are invaluable. Hold on to them and love the stuffin’ outta them!
Christmases are different now for us. They’re not the ones I remember from long ago. But you know what? That’s okay. I’ll hold them forever in my heart, but it’s time to start new traditions…paying my blessings forward. It’s so easy to get caught up in the stress and impersonal world we live in. When we move at such a fast pace, it’s easy to miss those little smiles and kind words of the people around us.
Today was an emotional day. Neighbors dropped by home-baked cookies and sweet Christmas cards. I received a text message from one of my son’s employees thanking me for helping him through the year. When making a call to the power company for an explanation of our bill, I talked to the sweetest woman who bent over backward to help me straighten it out. Her kindness was so unexpected. Tonight we spent the evening with friends – the kind who are real and honest and fun. My whole day was filled with warm, loving people who touched me to the tips of my toes, and I had a thought.
At the risk of sounding sappy and dramatic, I started thinking how easy it would be for people to just be kind to each other. It’s not that hard to do, and what a different world this would be. As I wondered what it would take to make this happen, I noticed the gift my daughter had given me for Christmas. It’s a simple gold bracelet with the words inscribed “BE THE CHANGE”.
I have my answer, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do.
Merry Christmas to you all!
If you’d like to join me BE THE CHANGE, I’ve found the bracelet that’s exactly like mine. You can purchase it by clicking the button below.