I have a lot of Christmas photographs, wrapped carefully in paper envelopes, high on a shelf in a box in my closet. It’s pre-digital Christmas, numerous shots of Griffin, and my siblings surrounded by piles of paper wrapped gifts, sporting huge smiles. I don’t pull them out much to look at physically because the images are stored in my head; multiple Christmases full of insane laughter and a wide-eyed little boy opening box after box from his adoring aunts and uncles. The year he was three, his pile of presents towered over him, and he proudly stood next to the stack, his eyes shining in anticipation.
(photo from wallpaper sphere)
It was a lot, those piles of gifts. Too much, and I had to gently tell my siblings not to indulge him so much. They couldn’t help it, and it made for a pretty joyful Christmas, especially in those early years with Griffin and I as there wasn’t always the best of circumstances in our lives. My siblings never let my boy go without, and helped me to give him some delightful Christmas experiences.
It's hard to express what a perfect Christmas entails, and everyone has a different opinion about it. It's about the food, or the goodies served, or the decorations. It's the pile of gaily wrapped gifts, with ribbons and glitter. Or it's the gathering of the clan. Our culture has given us George Bailey's Christmas, with the ringing of the christmas bell as the angel gets it's wings, or Ralphie pining for his Red Ryder BB gun. It's also given us Linus, eloquently stating the true meaning of Christmas on a dimly lit stage as his friends watch and listen. But in many ways too, far more than I wish to understand, our culture has forced a sense of commercialized perfectionism on a holiday where the true meaning of why it's celebrated has been painfully lost.
(photo from viewpoints) It's lean for us this year, far leaner than we expected as we had to replace our furnace last Friday. But we're not a big blowout kind of Christmas family anyway. We're really simple, and most of our gifts, in all honesty, were purchased all together last week. Griffin needed basketball shoes, and asked for a new basketball. I wanted a better computer bag and Mike needed a few items as well and so we just bought them together, making sure we got what we needed. There will be a few wrapped gifts under the tree, but we reflect and focus on the meaning of the season far more than the gifts. We count our blessings amidst the dwindling numbers in our pocketbook. We know..... really, it could be far worse. I've been there. I've been face to face with poverty and want; struggling to feed a little boy and myself, shrinking to the tiniest I've ever been because I wasn't eating enough. I've laid awake at night, listening to the little boy sleeping peacefully, and shook in fear over the speedy onset of Christmas, and being so poor that I couldn't even consider what gifts I could wrap for him. And twice in my life, for two consecutive years, the spirit of Christmas, the generosity that pours out of others spilled into my life like a flood and gave me reason to celebrate when the effort of putting one foot in front of the other was about all I could do each day.
In 1996, Griffin was two and Christmas was approaching and I was working a minimum wage job that barely kept us floating. It was really an awful time for me, but my boss became my first Christmas angel when she delivered a box at work for me from her teacher husband's high school class. They'd gathered items to give to charity, and as her story went, they had more than they needed so she asked to bring the excess to me. I don't recall how many years passed before I realized that I was part of that charity, but the box I brought home held enough items for me to be able to give my boy a wide array of presents on Christmas Day and I recall weeping with relief as I removed toy after toy from that carton, along with some very nice items for me. Every Christmas, I think of her generosity and grace, of how she lifted me up without my even knowing. We just recently reconnected on Facebook and I plan to thank her again for being the angel she was that year.
(photo from majorly cool things)
The following year I had a similar experience, and I recounted it in this post about my most favorite Christmas ornaments. Again, a friend stepped up and gave of themselves to help lift my spirits and make a better celebration for my little guy. It was the last year that I struggled against the tide that was trying to push me over the edge, and the remaining years of Griffin’s young life were much more hopeful.
It isn’t about the number of packages under your tree, as the Grinch clearly found out. The Who’s down in Whoville knew exactly what it meant, each dawn of December 25th. We’ve faced some pretty mean challenges from life in the past few years but each time we feel like we’re teetering on a cliff about to slip off, something happens and the ground stabilizes. We’re blessed. And we know it. It’s hard to see among the trials we face each day, but when we awake this Saturday, we know in our hearts what really matters. We’ll sit by our lush Balsam pine, thick with ancient memories and stories, with glittery ribbon tinsel and sparkling tiny lights and we’ll smile and enjoy each other and the safety and warmth of our home. We’ll celebrate with family, laugh and drink and eat and laugh some more. The gift is here, right now, with us. It won’t be found in a box, no matter how beautifully it’s wrapped, or a meal that’s carefully thought out and prepared, or even in a plate of cookies.
The perfect Christmas is here, in the heart, with us all the time.