Christmas is two-faced. One minute we feel great joy as we anticipate opening all those gifts on our wish list and spending time with family, but we shouldn’t get too complacent because often without warning, perhaps as we listen again to “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” we will be overcome by sadness as we realize these are songs about dreams, not reality.
The meaning of Christmas is elusive these days. It’s hopefully not connected in the least to retail frenzy, those shoppers shooting each other in a parking lot over a parking spot or grabbing items from another customer or spending Thanksgiving Day and even days prior to the holiday camping out in the cold to be the first to score a deal on a flat screen television or fighting inside a mall outside a Victoria’s Secret store over women’s underwear. Where does family fit into the life of that college girl who stated with joy that this year she was skipping Thanksgiving with her family so she could shop?
I always try to focus on the magic of my childhood Christmas that one year at the farm where hearing sleigh bells in the night and opening a stuffed Scottie dog made lovingly by my great-grandmother filled my heart with happiness. Joy was pure then. What happens to us as we grow up?
When we have our own children, we work hard to create Christmas magic for them. I have wonderful memories of the joy my children felt on Christmas morning, but they are grown up now and I hope to see that same joy on the faces of my grandchildren. This year I joined the Secret Sandy campaign. I got a letter from a six-year-old child telling Santa how he felt the day the hurricane destroyed everything he had and asking for a few toys for himself and his brother. My daughter got one from a mother asking for shoes for her four boys. While they got clothing items after the storm, there were no shoes for her children. I wonder if those frantic gray Thursday and Black Friday shoppers ever gave a thought to a child without shoes as they loaded up their carts with electronics and special deals.
Sunday night I attended a special event at the nursing home. Every year the hospital guild sponsors a Memory Tree lighting ceremony. People can buy a “candle” for the tree in memory of a loved one for $5.00. At 6:30 the residents of the nursing home were brought down to the lobby of the hospital to watch the lighting ceremony of the tree that had been put up outside the entryway. The ceremony was open only to the nursing home residents and their families. I brought my mother down from her room and wheeled her up to the windows where she could see the tree. She could not remember the name of my sister we were remembering with a special light, but she did remember she had lost her daughter and she cried throughout the ceremony. There was something very sad about all those residents lined up in their wheelchairs in front of the windows waiting for the tree lighting to begin. The tree was lit and some lights blinked on and off as 180 names were read from the list of loved ones no longer with us. My mother dabbed at her eyes listening for my sister’s name. Because the man reading the names mispronounced it, she didn’t hear it. Still the lights blinked against the darkness and I could feel my sister with us, comforting my mother in her sadness. There was beauty if not joy blended with the sadness and the loneliness that would not go away this Christmas season, the first Christmas my mother would not be in her own home for the holidays, sitting next to her little tree decorated with her collection of glass angels and tiny white lights.
Where can we find meaning in this holiday? Certainly not in frantic shopping. Maybe it will be in the faces of the children whose homes and toys are gone but who still get to open a toy on Christmas morning thanks to those who really care. Maybe it will be on the face of that mother who can put shoes on the feet of her children. Maybe meaning will be in those twinkling lights on the Memory Tree at the nursing home as those loved ones shine down on us helping us through our sorrow this Christmas season.