I cannot wait for next week - Christmas Eve is one of my favorite nights of the year. My husband and I travel to my hometown, to celebrate Christmas with my parents, my brothers and my sister-in-law. As of Tuesday night (!), my shopping is finished and my gifts are wrapped and placed under our tree. Our condo association prohibits live trees, so I’ve taken to burning an evergreen candle at every opportunity (tonight it was lit within approximately 27 seconds after walking in the front door). Even my outfits are selected – blacks, golds, reds. A combination of snowboots, high-heels, tennis shoes and slippers are laid out and ready to be packed.
All of this to say… I’m ready for Christmas.
But among all of the excitement and anticipation and my eagerness... the meaning of the season can sometimes be lost on me, especially when I’m dodging Michigan Avenue tourists, on a cold December lunch break. (And while I know that “Jesus is the reason for the season”, I’m not talking about the religious aspect in this… although there is certainly that part, too).
When I was young, and after Mike left our family, a couple would show up on our doorstep close to Christmas. They'd bring with them crisp bills, the kind that would help my mother with ours. I don't remember the words they would use, but the message was clear: Merry Christmas- you are loved.
I think of these people (a real life secret Santa) every Christmas season. There is something about this time of year that brings those memories back to me, the memories of being on the receiving end of such a gift. Almost 20 years later, the gift feels so big... bigger even, maybe, then when it was gifted.
A few weeks ago, I was browsing online, when I came across a digital Angel Tree. Families and individuals with specific Christmas needs. The premise was 'little things with great love' so none of the needs were more than $100. The first family I read about already had their need satisfied. So did the second, and the third and the fourth and the fifth. The first available need I found was posted by a mother with three young children. Her husband had left, and she found herself a single mom to three little ones.
I couldn't overlook the similarities, because twenty years ago, about the time of our secret Santa, that was my family.
I was one of two volunteers to help fulfill that families need, and my part was small - a $25 WalMart gift card, and something I gave, willingly, want-ingly. Eagerly and gratefully. Life is wonderful, sometimes, and the circle of it all wasn’t lost on me: the gift-ed became the gift-er. That WalMart gift card was as much a gift for me as it was from me.
I was listening to Christmas music the other day, and O Holy Night shuffled on. It’s one of my favorite Christmas songs, so I cranked up the volume. For the first time, I noticed an incredible line: “A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices”. (Cut to sentimental Kate sobbing alone in my living room). In one line, this song summarizes what I’m trying to say. Being a “thrill of hope” and the cause for rejoicing? THAT is what matters. THAT is what I want for Christmas, for all of us.
Christmas is not about the presents that are wrapped under our trees, or even the fun we're going to have celebrating. Family? Friendship? Love? Belonging to each other? That is what matters – every day, really, but especially at Christmastime. It sounds so cliché, but it is a gift, to give. That is what I wish for you – for all of us, really – this Christmas: the privilege of giving.
And while I am excited to drink wine (one or two glasses too many, please) and open presents with my family, I also pledge to look around me this December, and recognize how I can be a thrill of hope to the weary world around me. Will you join me?