“My idea of Christmas, whether old-fashioned or modern, is very simple: loving others. Come to think of it, why do we have to wait for Christmas to do that?” ~Bob Hope
Time is flying. We seem to notice this in December more than any other month, as Christmas is upon us (already?) and the year comes crashing to an end. We look back with nostalgia at the Christmases of our childhood, remembering those long slow days leading up to December 25th. It doesn’t occur to us now, that for the adults in our lives, the days were tumbling over one another like they do for us today.
But in our fond memories, Christmas was perfect, with a host of scents and sensations that linger on, recalling delicious food, special music and pleasant surprises. In Chapelton, Jamaica, Christmas Day started early on a cool dark morning, with the Christmas Service. Up in the hills, the sun not yet peeking over the mountains, we would walk through the dew dropped grass in our Sunday best, sweaters draped for warmth against the Christmas breeze that dipped down from Canada to tease us. And then we would sing our hearts out, knowing that the day stretched out ahead of us, full of wonder and fun.
Even when you take the origin of the holiday out of the equation, the joy of giving at Christmas time brings out the best in most people. And for the kids, there is no better feeling: more gifts than on your birthday, and a day when adults leave you alone to play all day. It is no wonder that our present day Christmases cannot compare. And the joy then comes in trying to ensure that we are giving our own children that same sensation, that same delight and awe that we recall.
In our adulthood we discovered something intriguing – it is the giving that gives us pleasure now. When we give gifts at the office, we want to see the look on the person’s face as they open it, hoping that we got the right gift. But beyond the gift exchange, we have learned that it is in doing for others, in living a more selfless life, you actually get the most reward. Unfortunately we often chase after things for ourselves, thinking that owning more things will bring us pleasure.
But Christmas is for kids. I remember some years ago, before I had grandkids, I was visiting my family in Wales at Christmas time, and my father was still alive, his memory already savaged by dementia. I was voicing my philosophy that Christmas without kids is no Christmas when my father passed by. Very sternly he reprimanded me “Then I am very sorry for you” he said. I could only imagine he was trying to tell me that Christmas is about the birth of Jesus, and the gift giving should not be the focus.
Yet after he died I found the notes he made for a Christmas sermon many years before. He was remembering the Christmases of his own childhood. And though he grew up very poor, he remembered the simple treats that his mother would prepare for their Christmas stockings: a tangerine, some nuts, a piece of chocolate. As a father he played the role of Father Christmas (aka Santa Claus), sneaking around the home dressed in his green robe (sorry, it would have to look like red in the dark) with a towel draped over his head to add to the disguise. My mother would stuff the stockings and wrap the gifts, and he would tiptoe into our rooms to deposit them at the foot of our beds. Dementia had stolen his memories of the joy of giving, but he had been a full participant in the drama.
When my own kids were young, I delighted in tricking them each year, warning them not to expect too much. The only gifts wrapped and waiting under the tree would be from various aunts and friends. I once could not bathe in my own bathroom as the shower was full of toys! And then the fun of watching their surprise on Christmas morning, watching them tearing off paper as the ackee and saltfish cooked on the stove.
As you prepare for your own Christmas, I hope you are recalling those lovely memories, and creating memories for your own children and grandchildren. And don’t forget that it is not the toys, or the amount you spend that your children will remember, it is the sensations of surprise and delight that will stay with them.
On this Friday before Christmas, I hope you are able to look forward to the holidays without too much stress and anxiety, able to enjoy family and friends. For those who have lost loved ones around this time, I hope you are able to celebrate their lives with joy, that they give to you the gift of peace.
Have a wonderful weekend, family, and a peaceful and happy Christmas.