I come from a very large family: three brothers, my sister and I, and our parents. Each sibling got married, we each had two children. For many years we were all living very close to each other and the holidays were these huge, jolly, loud, vivacious, loving, and magical feeling times we shared. We are funny and creative people, some have boisterous voices, clever talented wit runs rampant in our ranks and generosity runs deep in our souls. We enjoyed each others’ company tremendously, and sometimes we went quite overboard on Christmas presents for each other, the grandparents, the kids … you can imagine.
I remember one Christmas in particular with a large Christmas tree standing beautifully in a corner of a large room at I-don’t-recall-specifically-just-whose-house. Presents surrounded the tree, overflowed from underneath it, and streamed out in piles and rivers beyond the reach of its lofty, abundant boughs.
That was a big Chirstmas, but not the best Christmas I can recall … oh, it was a great Christmas, don’t get me wrong. There was love abounding, family galore, a house full of laughter and excitement. It was great. But it was not the best.
I remember another year when I was a single parent, living out in the high desert above Los Angeles with my children. The spring of that year one sister-in-law suggested the family try something new for Christmas: rather than every one freely exchanging gifts with each other, we would draw names and each person would focus their attention and budget on buying something for just one person. We were each to create a wish list of “big” things we wanted. Honestly, I didn’t agree with the concept, but it seemed others in the family agreed and so we were to give it a try.
That was a tough year for me financially, so I would have to make something for whoever I would draw the name of. But there was a problem, we weren’t going to draw names until Thanksgiving. That wouldn’t give me enough time to figure out a project, get supplies and make something. I had the bright idea that I would get someone to help me “rig” the drawing so that I could pick early in the year one person to bestow something special on and have several months to prepare.
Over the course of the summer I bought various supplies and I made a lovely assortment of peach colored and coordinated items for my sister for her bedroom. They were beautiful items … a fabric covered hat box, a padded fabric jewelry box, a cross stitch project of some kind, other items I don’t remember so clearly now.
Thanksgiving came, we all got together and during the course of the day time for the big drawing came up. I pulled whoever was in charge of the drawing aside and told them my problem, so we “fixed” the drawing so that I picked my sister’s name and all seemed well.
Then it happened.
A discussion got started.
Turns out, not everyone was in agreement with the plan of drawing names and shopping for only one person. There were lots of emotions, different points of view, and general confusion. A thought occurred to me, which I felt would resolve the entire matter even though it would cause a problem for me.
I said that the wonderful thing about holidays, and especially Christmas, is that we all get filled up with these wonderful feelings each and every year … feelings of love, and magic, and so forth. I realized, and I told them, that what makes holidays stand out so crisply for each of us is tradition. We have certain traditions of food, timing, experience, generosity. And when we experience those traditions, we know it is “Christmas”, or “the holidays”. Our personal family traditions trigger in us the stirring of special feelings, and tradition is what helps keep it special and not just some ordinary day. I pointed out that our tradition of wild, un-abandoned gift giving was a long standing tradition and the idea of drawing one person’s name wasn’t a bad idea it was just not our tradition and so we probably should not do it because it was going to undo our tradition too drastically.
I told them all, that I had good reason to wish we would go forward with it because I had already spent my whole budget on just one person … I told him about the problem I had, and how I had solved it by preparing ahead of time and then rigging the drawing. But, I said that in spite of the situation I was in, I didn’t think we should mess with our family tradition.
Everyone agreed with the points I had made, and we tossed out the names we had drawn. Christmas would proceed as usual. Yippee. I didn’t know what I was going to do, but yippee anyway.
As the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas passed, I did what I could to come up with something I could do for the other many members of family given that I had very little money or time. I must admit, tradition or not, I was struggling quite a bit with how to pull the Christmas I was creating out of a nose dive and I honestly was not sure what I was going to do. Crying didn’t seem to help, but tears flowed regardless of my best efforts to prevent them.
One week before Christmas, I sat down to go through a pile of mail, sorting through the mounting stacks of bills and junk mail, putting the junk mail in a bag to be thrown out, putting the bills in a stack to be stared at despondently … well, not really but sort of. When I was finished, I got up and grabbed the junk mail bag and headed for the trash can in the garage. For some reason, I stopped as I got to the door. I had a strange feeling I should check the contents of the bag one more time for some reason. So, I riffled through the contents, and then I noticed an envelope that had escaped my attention before. I was addressed to me, my name and address were typed. Then I looked at the return address and it was … from St. Nick at the North Pole.
Yes, the return address was something like “1 Rudolph Way, North Pole”.
I opened it up, and inside was a cashier’s check for $500, made out to me.
Someone had anonymously given me $500.
I sat down and cried again, but the mood was quite different.
It was magic. Whoever, whatever the source of the check in that plain little envelope, what I had been given more than anything else was magic and I just have to say I appreciated that bit of magic so very, very much.
I shared some of my St. Nick money with my next door neighbor so she could help Santa with something for her little boy and I shopped for my family with the remainder, and set some aside for a special Christmas dinner and treats for my children.
Years later, in fact, the last Christmas I spent in Los Angeles, I had an opportunity to pass the torch of magic that had been passed to me way back in the California high desert. A ministry in the inner city of Los Angeles was conducting their annual toy drive, and they sent out an email asking for new toys to be donated for their cause. They would distribute the toys to poor children and families in the inner city who would not have Christmas otherwise.
I had about 1,000 teddy bears in storage left over from a business idea I had tried that I had decided not to pursue. They were called “Moonbears”, made from some characters I had designed back when I used to do teddy bear designs for greeting cards (a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away). My little Moonbears were very high quality, brand new, and it was sad I had not been able to sell them. I decided to donate 50 of my stock to the ministry, and made arrangements for them to be picked up.
Then I got to thinking about it, and I thought why not give more. At first it felt generous to give 50 bears, when they were only asking for one toy from each person. Their target was to gather toys for 300 children. Why not give them 300 bears?
So, I called the ministry and told them I would give a few more bears to their cause.
Then I got to thinking about it even more, and I thought … why not give more. Why not give away almost all of those bears and help Christmas happen for more than just 300 children.
As it turned out, I gave them 900 or more of my dear Moon Bears. These bears had angle wings and halos, and some had glitter in their fur. They were very high quality, soft, and cuddly and each one was endowed, I believe, with a big dose of my love and good wishes.
The lady who I was coordinating with at the ministry told me that the large donation of bears had been an inspiration to her and the other staff because normally the toys they received were low quality or seconds. My bears were so high quality and the number of them so much more than anyone had expected, that the staff became inspired and they got together a bunch of gift bags and tissue paper and put together lovely gift bags for hundreds and hundreds of kids with my bears and other donated items in them.
I have to say, I think that Christmas is my best Christmas ever. I felt as if I were a real part of the concept of St. Nick, Santa, the big Claus. When I heard about the happiness, the smiles on the children’s faces as they opened their gifts, and the wonderful feelings the whole experience stirred in the staff … magic.
Over the years I have had Christmas during times of great abundance, and some during times of bare necessity survival, hanging on by the skin of teeth, so to speak.
What I have noticed about Christmas is that no matter what isn’t there, what I can always find a way to put into it is magic.
It doesn’t really matter what you call this time of year, it is a time of magic. That is the tradition of Christmas, magic.
In every act of brotherly love, of generosity, kindness, redemption, reconciliation … in these acts whether large or small (and more so in the small than in the large) we are, each of us, carrying on a long-standing tradition of creating and experiencing magic. It is a torch that has been passed to us and among us, and each Christmas we keep it going, and going, and going.
Look around you between now and Christmas. Is there someone you haven’t thought of who needs to feel the warmth and light of that torch embracing them, bringing hope and joy their way if even for just that one magic moment or day?
Merry Christmas, happy holidays, and joyous Abuntide (a holiday I invented for the Moonbears) Pass the torch, live brightly.