I celebrate a different kind of Christmas, you see. It’s a kind of Christmas that gets me skip-the-stairs-slide-down-the-banister-and run-to-the-tree kind of excited. It’s the kind of Christmas where the gifts I receive are guaranteed to make me smile (and probably cry) and are guaranteed to be cherished for the rest of my life (and only take up a little bit of space in a dresser drawer). It’s the kind of Christmas that gives me a glow for weeks afterward as I marvel at the generosity of my family and feel the joy of their gifts all over again each time I look at them. In short, in my opinion it’s the kind of Christmas that’s what Christmas is supposed to be.
So how do you get that kind of Christmas?
Well, a few years ago around Thanksgiving I got the usual e-mail from my family (my mom, stepdad, dad, stepmom, brother, sister, etc.) asking everyone what they wanted for Christmas. I sighed and stared at the ceiling, my mind sorting through and tossing out various gift ideas I could submit to them. I remember feeling almost a little annoyed at having to think up an obligatory “wish list." I decided to mull it over for a few days.
Sometime during those few days as I folded yet another load of laundry and picked up more random stuff from off the floor and out of the corners of my house I thought, I have too much stuff. I couldn’t help but recognize the irony when I realized I was getting irritated by having all this stuff and at the same time trying to think of more stuff people could give me that I didn’t need. Especially since all over the world there are many, many people trying to survive with much less than they need. Those people could probably very easily come up with a Christmas list, with things on it like food, a warm coat, a safe place to sleep, a break from bill collectors calling and Christmas gifts for their kids.
As I continued with my household chores an idea began to form in the back of my mind. What if, instead of asking for gifts for myself, I asked people to take the money they would have spent on a gift for me and use it to bless someone else in actual need? What if, on Christmas, instead of putting on a smile and opening gifts that would most likely be forgotten in a matter of months, I got to open letters explaining what was done for others on my behalf? The more I thought about this idea, the more excited I got.
For the first time sine I was a kid, I knew exactly what I wanted for Christmas.
I shared the idea with my family, and told them to save any gifts for me for my birthday. For Christmas, I wanted to celebrate the Savior’s birthday and give a gift to Him by giving to others. I explained to them that I feel happiest when I can love and serve others, and as a busy mom I often had neither the time nor the money to serve in the way I would like. This was a way they could help me give to others.
My unusual request got mixed responses. That first year, only one family member/couple honored my wishes. On Christmas I received a letter explaining that they had used the money for my gift to purchase a backpack and items to fill it for a homeless man they often passed on the way to work. They listed the items they had put in the bag- warm socks, some energy bars, gloves, tissues, lip balm, etc. The thought of my gift helping someone in such need was amazing to me. To be truthful, I only remember one other gift I received that year (which happened to be a cookbook a family member lovingly compiled of all our best family recipes).
Last year was the first time everyone was on board with my different kind of Christmas. I guess they needed proof that yes, I really was serious, and yes, it really did make me happy! Last year for Christmas 500 people got meals (yes, 500!), a family got help paying their heating bills, and a 15-year-old girl got a Christmas her parents couldn’t provide. That last one really touched me because my dad and stepmom purchased gifts for her with me in mind- when I read the list of gifts she received, it was just like the kinds of things I used to get for Christmas when I was her age. I felt like I had loaned my parents to someone else for Christmas! :-)
I’d like to think that as time goes on, my family members will enjoy giving these gifts as much as I enjoy receiving them. I have encouraged them to be creative with their selections, but I have also told them that a simple check to a charity like the LDS Humanitarian Aid Fund will suffice.
Now, I’m not sharing this because I want to be holier-than-thou. I know lots of people much holier than me, in fact. The reason I’m sharing this is because it is a solution to a problem that I hear so many people mourning over- the loss of Christ in our Christmas. I know there are others out there who are eager for a different kind of Christmas as well, one without crowded shopping malls and piles of gifts. They want Christmas to be less about retail and more about reverence; less about jolly and more about real joy; less about gifts and more about God. They want a Christmas where the magic is real. For me personally, this was the way to do it, and I’ll never go back.
“Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” - Matthew 25:40
“It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes, or bags...What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store? What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more?”
Anybody want to join me in celebrating a different kind of Christmas?