Sunday, December 21, 2008

What's Christmas?

The Nativity
by Federico Barocci (c. 1535-1612)

It seems like every time I open my inbox, there are a dozen more advertisements from places I've shopped before:
  • Only hours left to save!
  • Order by _____ for Christmas Delivery!
  • New Markdowns!
Blah, blah, blah. I love a bargain as much as any girl, but I'm a little tired of the ads. As I felt in the days leading up to the election, I am just ready for the ads to stop! I'm sure, though, that immediately after Christmas, these ads will show up:
  • Get What You Really Wanted!
  • Trade in That Fruitcake for This!
  • Deepest Discounts of the Year!
In other words, "we need to move this stuff now because we didn't sell everything we needed to sell!"

We went out shopping yesterday (hubby's idea, not mine) and came face to face with the last-minute throngs. It was freezing outside, but inside the stores, the heaters plus the body heat of all those shoppers made for some extended hot flashes. I kept my purse zipped and we kept our eyes open, because we realize this is a desperate time of year for many, many people. We didn't need to do any Christmas shopping, as that's long been done, but hubby suggested that I needed a new robe. My lavender terrycloth robe was starting to get a little ratty, so he generously said, "Let's go get you a new one." (I'm beginning to wonder if he got a Christmas bonus!)

Honestly, he wanted to shop for himself, too, but he couldn't find what he was looking for. I, on the other hand, found a robe discounted 70%, a satchel discounted to $17 (and it's oh-so-shiny!), and a nightgown I'd had my eye on discounted 60%. I got out of there with all three for about $50. If you're a bargain shopper, it's the most wonderful time of the year.

It's easy when you get out there to forget about the spiritual side of Christmas, though. There wasn't a shred of evidence that this holiday is about anything but spending money. What a sad testament to what our society has done to itself. Yes, we've been bemoaning this for a very long time, but seriously, how must the children of these downtrodden families feel about their short shrift on Christmas morning? Will they feel that Santa has forgotten them?

We had such a Christmas one year. We had all gotten into our newly renovated VW Scirocco for a trip from Atlanta to Lima, OH, to visit hubby's mom and stepdad. We were in a very bad situation, living from paycheck to paycheck (barely) and rent was coming up again. His mom really wanted to see us, though, and sent us some money for gas and food for the trip. The kids were little: the Girl was 5 and the Boy was 2.

Just as we got into town (and got a little lost - no GPS back then), we were slammed into by another car, one much bigger than us. We were hit twice. The force of the first impact crushed the right side of the engine; the second impact obliterated the rear of the car. All I could think, when the car came to rest, was "are my kids okay?" The impact had knocked off hubby's glasses and shoved the ejected cassette tape back into the player. Maybe that's why, to this day, I don't like to listen to Til Tuesday. That was the tape playing as we assessed the damage and waited for the ambulance.

We were physically okay (though the Girl and I rode to the hospital on back-boards), but I did end up on crutches for a month due to a third-degree sprain in my knee from the first impact. We were ruined, financially, though. Our car was totaled. The house of cards came down. We borrowed money, again, and left our kids with Grandma so we could take a bus to Georgia and get everything wrapped up there. Mom loaned us enough cash (very little) for a cheapo used car. We managed to find an old LTD, a few years newer than the one we had once lived in. It seemed like a bad omen. To top it off, we had to hitchhike to get to the Western Union location and then to the car dealer. I remember one woman giving us a ride, but the whole time, she said, "Don't kill me. Please don't kill me." It made me feel horrible. I said, "Lady, we really appreciate this, and we're not bad people. We're just trying to get back to our kids." She was pale as milk when she dropped us off.

"God bless you," I said to her.

We lost most of our belongings, because we couldn't bring them along. We had a rush yard sale and sold a few things but left everything else that wouldn't fit in the trunk of the car sitting right there in the apartment from which we were getting evicted. Down on our luck and incredibly worried, we made our way north again.

Still on crutches, I got a temp job at a forensic hospital in the accounting department. Just before Christmas, hubby got a job in the Honda plant in Marysville, working the night shift so that we didn't have to pay for day care. We stayed in his stepdad's old house in the worst neighborhood in town. We had to check the yard every morning for drug needles, because the local junkies were using the alley behind the house to get their fixes. Every day we died a little more.

Still, we managed to get a small tree and a few decorations, enough to make the place feel like home. We still didn't know what we were going to do for presents. We weren't a member of any local church, and we only knew his folks. I managed to get some WIC and food stamps to get us through the holidays, though it tortured me to do it. Had it been just us, I never would have done it, but the kids had to eat.

Closer to Christmas we managed to get a Barbie doll for the Girl and a Tonka truck for the Boy. In addition, Santa left candy canes all over the tree and a box of Christmas cookies in a box.

When they got up on Christmas morning, you would have thought the kids had hit the motherlode. They were delighted with their toys and even more delighted with the Christmas cookies! What I saw as our failure to provide turned into a memorable morning for the kids. They still remember the Christmas that Santa left them cookies. (In reality, it's because Santa could buy the cookies and candy with food stamps.) We felt like losers, but the kids didn't even notice. (Grandma did get them some other toys, though, so it wasn't a total bust.)

We've had much more prosperous years since then, but it was the leanest Christmas we ever had with the kids. We were forced to focus on the spirit of giving, the little things, and the simple pleasures that Christmas. I hope that the parents out there who have lost their jobs, lost their homes, and lost their hope will find a little of it in the eyes of their children this year. Maybe they can't shop the clearance sales, maybe they'll have to resort to things they can buy with food stamps, but I truly hope that they remember that the Holy Family also had nothing. They had to let people come to them with offerings. Don't forget to make your own offering to someone in need this year. They may not ask you for anything, so keep your eyes open.

The Boy? The one who had such a lean Christmas as a toddler? He noticed that his landlord (who lives in the basement and rents out all the rooms upstairs) is poor. He realized this when the landlord gave his son a 10-year-old RC car for his birthday. The car had once been his, but he wanted to spruce it up and give it to his kid. The Boy helped and got the car running. The landlord and his wife are from Poland and don't place nearly as much importance on the material part of Christmas, but the Boy was touched. He decided right then and there to make sure to include this little boy on his Christmas list, but not in such as way as to overshadow whatever the parents are able to give. He is going to be Santa this year. I shed a few tears when he told me this. What a good Man the Boy has become. His heart is tender and open.

It really is all about giving of yourself to others. You don't even have to have money to do that. Offer your time. Offer your love. Just do it.

Peace - D


Moannie said...

This pot is so touching and it moved me a great deal. I now what it is like to be without; without parents and a warm loving home. I know that the small bump at the foot of the bed is just as exciting as a full pillow case.One toy, an orange, some nuts, a cracker and a comb, are still remembered. Your children had two parents who loved them and the warmth of that has succoured them.

Happy Christmas, Momma

Moannie said...

Bugger: That is a 'post' of course, and 'I Know'

Akelamalu said...

Such a touching post m'dear. Some of our best Christmases were when we didn't have very much. x

Fat, frumpy and fifty... said...

wonderful post..and yes its good to remind us (even those of us whose losses are still with us in our minds if not our pockets or beds) to be grateful and to be gracious...its an old chestnut but there is always someone worse of..and it IS better to give than receive...r words are so Powerful much more so than I could write....its hard to write the stuff of hard experiences...


and Please drop by and read todays (sunday) post!!

Jo said...

Wow! Beautiful post.

I just hate the way the merchants have hijacked Christmas and turned it into something it is not. It makes me physically ill to watch Christmasm um, I mean "holiday" advertisements. For most stores, Christmas is the "make or break" season, so they try to sell as much as possible, to as many people as possible. As a consequence, it becomes a very stressful time of year for most people. That is not what Christmas is about.

It sounds as if you and your family have the true Christmas spirit.

Merry Christmas!

Maggie May said...

Beautiful Post. You don't have to have lots of money to enjoy Christmas.
Some of our best ones were when we had very little.
Happy Christmas.

Sandy said...

Oh, D. What a beautiful post!

Cloudia said...

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing this wonderful Christmas post. I'm so glad to know a soulful friend like you. Warm Aloha & Best Wishes! You are wealthy in the way that matters-

Not Afraid to Use It said...

This was a great post to read. I enjoyed reading where you have been and where you are now. How beautiful to see your Boy so in tune to the lives and needs of others. A great gift back to you.

the walking man said...

What they above me said can not be improved upon.

Rest up RP, 2009 is coming.

Daryl said...

Like the walking man, I agree everyone has said it perfectly!