Despite the Christmas season beginning around the Baseball All Star Game, the spirit of the season doesn’t always hit me right away. There is something very un-Christmas like about the life threatening chaos revolving around Black Friday sales. While I love a good croon from Andy Williams this time of year, by the second week of December of the same songs, I would listen to Justin Bieber. The commercialization of the season has me on Turbo Tax in early January to get my rebates back to pay everything off. I know the accepted “reason for the season” is baby Jesus but there are only so many times you can talk about him and wage war on Christmas before I want to start celebrating Hanukkah.
This year my holiday spirit took even longer than usual to get going. My traditions this time of year, though during the moment felt good, didn’t sustain that feeling. From waking up earlier and earlier every day as Christmas gets closer to seeking out every Santa they can find to tell him about their lists, my kids are usually a good kickstart to my spirit. I love their enthusiasm and innocence this time of year but even their wild-eyed excitement and pre-dawn wake up calls haven’t been able to fill my spirits like other years.
This year, my delay in holiday spirit stems not from October Christmas sales, Nativity protests, or listening to Madonna sing ‘Santa Baby’ but more about the paying the bills.
It has been a tough year. Like a lot of families, mine has felt the struggles. My wife is working two jobs. I have been trying to reach sales quotas in mine. Mortgage payments were made thanks in large part to grace periods. What we were able to save, we did so knowing Christmas was coming because we both knew December 25th was coming. My wife and I were, unfortunately yet necessarily, excluding ourselves from the present opening this year because telling my kids that having a roof over their heads, clothes in their closest and food in the refrigerator doesn’t quite have the same effect as presents under the tree for them.
Then I read about a fire in an apartment complex close to our home. Forty five people lost everything on Wednesday. Clothing, pets, toys, heirlooms were reduced to nothing more than smoldering ash. Whatever they might have had for the holidays was gone. No roof, no clothing, no food in the refrigerator. I became completely consumed with the story after watching the local news and seeing the faces of the kids who were apart of the families who watched everything they had burn. A local hotel opened up rooms for everyone at no charge and donations were being accepted immediately following the tragedy.
This is when I felt my Christmas spirit. At 10:30 on a Wednesday night, sitting in front of the television, watching the news, I was hit with a left hook to my throat by Santa, and baby Jesus, and anyone on Facebook who ever posted ‘He is the Reason for the Season’, and the Salvation Army volunteers in front of Wal-Mart, and ‘Its better to give than receive’, and my kids, and my roof, and my closet full of clothing, and the food in my refrigerator. They all hit me at once.
My wife and I immediately began gathering clothes from our closet. I grabbed toys from the girls and books from the basement and loaded the car. Thursday morning I bypassed work and went directly to the hotel to unload everything. As I brought the bags of items collected from my house, I walked in side by side with other people who must have felt the same throat punch from the Christmas spirit the night before as I did.
I know that my bags of clothing and other items can never replace what was lost by those 45 people, but it wasn’t about that. It was about being able to give to people who, at that moment, would love it if all they were able to worry about their bills. It was about taking one small step on my part for someone else.
I have been on a Christmas high since I unloaded the car. I haven’t stopped whistling Christmas songs. It took me 20 minutes longer to get home because I let anyone looking to merge into traffic in and waved on anyone waiting on the sidewalk to cross the street. I would have kissed a coworker under Mistletoe today but he told me my beard would be too scratchy (and admittedly, it would have been a little weird).
The whole experience made me remember just how lucky I am to be able to put presents under a tree for my kids. How wonderful it is going to be to watch their expressions when they walk down the steps on Saturday. How good it feels to be able to take part in the holiday traditions I look so forward to every year. It has made my faith in charity even stronger and added a desire to continue all year round and it reminded me of all the presents I am so fortunate to be able to unwrap every day. Namely, a roof over my head, clothing in my closet and food in the refrigerator.