The rush to Christmas and the relentless barrage of spend-centric advertisements is my holiday pet peeve. I love the holiday season, including Thanksgiving, and I will buy a good few presents in the coming weeks. But I will not join the shopping hoards hopped up on caffeine and consumerism during Black Friday or Cyber Monday or any other cutesy-monikered days following Thanksgiving.
I don’t like shopping, or crowds, on a normal day, and the two together are soul crushing for me, which negates the joy of finding presents to give to loved ones. I’d rather hold on to the feel-goodness and relative calm of Thanksgiving for another few days.
I understand, of course, that these days and weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas are crucial to the bottom line for many stores, both the big chain outlets and the Main Street boutiques. I realize that Christmas and Chanukah are holidays in which people traditionally bestow gifts upon friends and family members. But bestowing thoughtful gifts is not the same as simply buying more stuff, even if the sales are incredible.
Whether we are religious or not, whether we celebrate Christmas or Chanukah or both or something else, whether we are surrounded by family or far from home, this season is meant to celebrate hope and peace, love and light, helping others and sharing joy.
With three children in the house, it is easy to embrace the joy of Christmas. My kids are at the sweetest age for holiday magic, for baking cookies and decorating the house and visits to Santa. Come Christmas morning, they will find presents under the tree and stockings brimming with goodies.
I know that these – the brimming stockings and pretty presents and, most importantly, the excited children – are among my family’s many blessings. And I try to carry the spirit of Thanksgiving into the holidays beyond so that gratitude is mixed with the sometimes chaotic joy. Surrounded by gift-touting grandparents and aunts and uncles, my children know Christmas to be a time of plenty – plenty of love, plenty of good food, plenty of presents to unwrap.
Sadly, there are many children who do not know a world of plenty, and this lack of abundance must be exacerbated during a season when joy-filled advertisements of colorfully-wrapped gifts abound. I cannot imagine what it is like to wake up as a child to a Christmas morning without presents.
When I was a kid, my family picked a tag or two each year from the Giving Tree at our church. We kids would help choose a child, nameless to us, based on age and the few other details we could ascertain from the clothing sizes and toy interests listed on the small tag. We were always amazed that there were kids, just like us, who may not have presents to open on Christmas day.
A few years ago, when my own children were young enough that the boxes and wrapping paper were more fun to play with than the gifts they concealed, we chose a tag from a similar Giving Tree effort. All three of my kids were small enough to ride in the shopping cart as we looked together for warm boots and clothes and a few toys we hoped the unknown child would love. My kids were too young then to really understand what we were doing, and to my great chagrin we have not picked a Giving Tree tag since.
This year, moved by a friend’s efforts on behalf of a Giving Tree child, I am inspired to again choose a name with my children and to endeavor together to provide a bit of holiday joy to another child, who is probably not so different from my own.
My friend, as she was shopping for clothes for her Giving Tree child, sought advice from the sales clerk. When he learned of her mission, the clerk told my friend that people like her were responsible for the gifts he woke up to on the Christmas mornings of his childhood. He told her how much that had meant to him, and that it would mean more than my friend could realize to her Giving Tree child, too.
If that’s not clear testimony that these efforts to share a bit of holiday magic are worth it,
I don’t know what is.
My children are older now than that first year we picked a Giving Tree name. They’re old enough to wish for certain coveted things under the tree on Christmas morning. They’re old enough to understand that not everyone has a holiday season filled with family and hugs and happy surprises. They’re old enough to know that a kind act, no matter how small, can sometimes make a big difference in helping another person feel good and loved and happy.
It seems a good lesson to remember, no matter how old we are, during this season of hope and love and joy – and of giving thanks. Kindness can come in many forms. A smile from a stranger on a dreary day. A heartfelt compliment from a friend. A hug during hard times. And the simplicity of gifts to open on Christmas morning.
Original content by Meghan McCarthy McPhaul, posted to her Blog: Writings From a Full Life. This essay also appears as Meghan's Close to Home column in the November 28, 2014 edition of the Littleton Record.