From hanging tinsel on my grandmother’s tree to the large family dinners and Christmas Eve Mass, I have always loved Christmas. There’s something special about the holiday when good cheer and carols surround us. Yet, it doesn’t feel quite the same anymore. Perhaps, I have gotten old and so the fantasies of childhood have worn off. Or maybe, things have changed.
In the days of old, stores wouldn’t have even considered opening on Thanksgiving Day. Yet, things seem to be changing as this year we debated whether or not it is appropriate for stores to open on a holiday like Thanksgiving. Seeing that I am not a big shopper anyway, I didn’t pay too much attention to the debate until I read an article on the Huffington Post. The article explored this debate through a series of interviews with people who were out shopping on Thanksgiving. I was taken back to read the following a few paragraphs in to the article:
“Yet amid these protests, people still talked about feeling powerless beneath the moment—as if they had no choice but to shop.
"You have to have these things to enjoy your children and your family," said Jackson's friend Ebony Jones, who had secured two laptops ($187.99 each) for her 7 and 11 year olds….’It shouldn't be that way, but in a sense there's no way around it," said Jones, a nurse. "Everything ends up with a dollar amount. Even your happiness.’”
When I first read this, I was shocked that anyone would willingly admit out loud to believing that our happiness and the love of others is dependent the gifts we buy. Once the shock wore off, I became depressed at how we have twisted such a beautiful holiday.
From a religious perspective, Christmas is about the birth of Jesus; a child born into very humble conditions to a teenage mother under suspicious circumstances. We see in this child, and the teachings and life of the man, a very countercultural challenge to the values of his day; that might equals right and that God’s love can be discerned by how much stuff one had. Those that follow Jesus discover that true happiness is found not in pursuing the treasures of this world but instead when we give of our whole selves for the care of the sick, the hungry, the poor, and the homeless so all may have what they need.
If we take a historical perspective on Christmas, we have to go back to the Christian Bishop of Myra, St. Nicholas. Nicholas was born in the late 3rd century and was known for using his inheritance to care for the poor and the sick. There are many legends about St. Nicholas, including how he helped three young women escape prostitution by providing dowries for each of them, saving towns from famine, and resurrecting and protecting children. Over the centuries, St. Nicholas took many different forms until he became what we now know as Santa Claus.
Either way we look at Christmas, this holiday has never been about giving gifts so others will love us and we will feel good. Instead at its origins, Christmas has been about caring for those in poverty, those who are oppressed, who are hungry, and who are sick. It has always been about a very old and simple truth: When we care for others on the edge of society, we discover what it truly means to be happy.
There are lots of ways to reach out to others this Christmas season. Here are some of my favorite organizations that are doing great work in our community:
- Friends of Youth helps families and youth improve their emotional stability and self-sufficiency.
- Congregations for the Homeless helps men transition from homelessness to permanent housing.
- Sophia’s Way helps adult homeless women become independent through a variety of programs.
- Hopelink is an organization that helps low income families move towards self-sufficiency through a variety of programs including energy assistance, a food bank, and much more.
- Pushing Boundaries helps people paralyzed due to illness, injury, or other disorders through intensive exercise therapies.
- Habitat for Humanity provides affordable housing in King County Washington.
These are just a few of the many organizations that help those in need in and around our community.
Just like most others, I’ll buy and receive presents this holiday season, and I’m looking forward to those looks of surprise when my children open gifts they never knew they always wanted. Still, I won’t confuse that with a need to purchase the love of my children or any incredibly deep religious experience.
As we approach this Christmas season, I hope you will the have opportunity to experience and know that true love cannot be bought; such a thing is a gift that never has a price tag.