The Reason for the Season
It's that time of year again. December has come and with it all the joys of Christmas. This year somehow feels different in the sense that the Christmas mood somehow feels dampened. Actually it seems like as years go by, or as we grow older the excitement about Christmas reduces. I don’t know exactly why but I guess the pressure that comes with the season could be part of the reason. I think Christmas has become so commercialized that the true meaning of the season has become lost on us. In fact, I get this feeling that very few children/teenagers know the true meaning of Christmas.
What is the real meaning of Christmas? Is it the gifts under the tree, the lights in the windows, the cards in the mail, an over kill of food with family and friends you haven’t seen in years, stockings hanging in the living room, and shouts of "Merry Christmas" to those who pass us in the streets? Is this really Christmas?
Unfortunately for many people, Christmas is a time of sorrow. They don't have the extra money to buy presents for their children, family, and friends. Many are saddened at Christmastime when they think of their loved ones who will not be able to come home for various reasons. Turkey dinners may be only a wish and not a reality for some.
Yet, Christmas can be a season of great joy. It is a time of God showing His great love for us. It can be a time of healing and renewed strength. It can be a time of portraying God’s love through simple acts. I guess this feeling can be captured by the true story I am sharing with you today, titled “The White Envelope”.
It's just a small, white envelope stuck among the branches of our Christmas tree. No name, no identification, no inscription. It has peeked through the branches of our tree for the past 10 years or so.
It all began because my husband Mike hated Christmas -- -oh, not the true meaning of Christmas, but the commercial aspects of it; overspending...the frantic running around at the last minute to get a tie for Uncle Harry and the dusting powder for Grandma --the gifts given in desperation because you couldn't think of anything else.
Knowing he felt this way, I decided one year to bypass the usual shirts, sweaters, ties and so forth. I reached for something special just for Mike. The inspiration came in an unusual way.
Our son Kevin, who was 12 that year, was wrestling at the junior level at the school he attended; and shortly before Christmas, there was a non-league match against a team sponsored by an inner-city church. These youngsters, dressed in sneakers so ragged that shoestrings seemed to be the only thing holding them together, presented a sharp contrast to our boys in their spiffy blue and gold uniforms and sparkling new wrestling shoes.
As the match began, I was alarmed to see that the other team was wrestling without headgear, a kind of light helmet designed to protect a wrestler's ears. It was a luxury the ragtag team obviously could not afford. Well, we ended up walloping them. We took every weight class. And as each of their boys got up from the mat, he swaggered around in his tatters with false bravado, a kind of street pride that couldn't acknowledge defeat.
Mike, seated beside me, shook his head sadly, "I wish just one of them could have won," he said. "They have a lot of potential, but losing like this could take the heart right out of them."
Mike loved kids-all kids-and he knew them, having coached little league football, baseball and lacrosse. That's when the idea for his present came. That afternoon, I went to a local sporting goods store and bought an assortment of wrestling headgear and shoes and sent the anonymously to the inner-city church.
On Christmas Eve, I placed the envelope on the tree, the note inside telling Mike what I had done and that this was his gift from me. His smile was the brightest thing about Christmas that year and in succeeding years.
For each Christmas, I followed the tradition -- -one year sending a group of mentally handicapped youngsters to a hockey game, another year a check to a pair of elderly brothers whose home had burned to the ground the week before Christmas, and on and on.
The envelope became the highlight of our Christmas. It was always the last thing opened on Christmas morning and our children, ignoring their new toys, would stand with wide-eyed anticipation as their dad lifted the envelope from the tree to reveal its contents.
As the children grew, the toys gave way to more practical presents, but the envelope never lost its allure. The story doesn't end there. You see, we lost Mike last year due to dreaded cancer. When Christmas rolled around, I was still so wrapped in grief that I barely got the tree up. But Christmas Eve found me placing an envelope on the tree, and in the morning, it was joined by three more.
Each of our children, unbeknownst to the others, had placed an envelope on the tree for their dad. The tradition has grown and someday will expand even further with our grandchildren standing around the tree with wide-eyed anticipation watching as their fathers take down the envelope. Mike's spirit, like the Christmas spirit, will always be with us.
Still wondering what to do this Christmas? It is simple. Think about love, think about giving without expecting anything in return. Speaking of giving, it doesn’t have to be something tangible. You can offer your time to do something for someone .e.g. washing the feet of someone infested by jiggers, helping out at an orphanage, etc.
As we start the Christmas week, may we all remember the reason for the season, and the true Christmas spirit this year and always.
Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas.
PS: Article originally published in Tanzania's Guardian on Sunday on the 21st December, 2014, under my weekly column "Thoughts in Words".