“Christmas is doing a little something extra for someone.” – Charles M. Schulz
“What kind of Christmas present would Jesus ask Santa for?” – Salman Rushdie, Fury
When I was a tiny, brand-new person, I knew what it felt like to be overwhelmed by music, cookies & twinkling lights. I knew the absolute joy that can only come from a tiny, brand-new person’s sense of wonder when presented with stories & images of magical elves, animals & places.
I knew Christmas magic. It was nothing less than magic.
Like any kid, I got excited about presents. But, wasn’t the anticipation & surprise always more fun than the actual object wrapped up inside all of that pretty paper?
I consider myself lucky that for the first few years of my life, I had grandparents who I always spent the holiday with & that they got more excited about Christmas than anyone I’ve ever met since. There was always an enormous tree, standing upon a big platform with an entire model town built on it… complete with the model train that would chug by, doing laps around the tree. There were cookies shaped like Santa Claus’ head, homemade candy & plenty of holiday music that my grandfather & I would yowl along to.
But… that was another time. The grandparents, the little model town & train are all gone. I am no longer a tiny, brand-new person, but am a big, grown-up person who no longer believes in elves, Santa Claus or that December 25th is Jesus’ birthday.
I am a big, grown-up person who knows that human beings do all of the rotten, terrible things in the world, not fantastic creatures & that it’s other human beings who do the few good things in the world, not mythical characters from stories that were written a long time ago.
Now, when Christmas rolls around, I am no longer overwhelmed by music, cookies & twinkling lights, but am beaten down by annoyance & loathing as I watch other big, supposedly grown-up people bickering about their imagined “War on Christmas.” I’m disgusted with the absurdity of holiday shopping – whether pepper spray is or isn’t involved. I’m saddened & sickened by how much I hear the word “want” for the last 2 months of the year. He wants she wants they want I want WANT WANT. “I want” seems to be said more than “I’m giving”. (Here’s the thing: if you say “want” more than “give” around the holidays, then you have failed at Christmas. You are doing it wrong.)
Over the years, I’ve morphed from being tiny & brand new to the jaded Scrooge I am now. I’ve been watching not only the dipshittery mentioned above, but also festive occasions where I have given a Christmas present to someone, only to have it insulted right to my face. (It wasn’t EXACTLY what they WANTED.) I have had my religious beliefs (& lack thereof) insulted & condescended to. Gifts I’ve given have been regifted back to me a year later.
What I’m getting at is, when I’ve seen the worst side of people, it’s usually been at Christmas.
Earlier this year, Olivier & I decided we weren’t going to be a part of this nonsense. We would not exchange gifts with each other. Instead, we decided to run away. We spent a few months tossing vacation ideas at one another.
“We could go to an island,” he said, scratching his beard. “We could be lazy & boozy. Cabana style.”
“Yeah, but… I don’t want to be summer. I still want to be winter. We could take a train to Switzerland & eat lots of fondue.”
“Uh. I dunno. We’ll think about it,” he said. “We’ve got plenty of time.”
This went on for months. Until we no longer had plenty of time. We could stay home, we decided, but really… that would just feel shitty. It was November. Holiday Hell was descending upon us.
Then on one average & unspecial Sunday afternoon, I asked my husband, “Remember when you were a tiny kid, how magic Christmas was, before the preaching, bitching & the wanting?”
“Yeah.” Olivier nodded. “It was. It was exciting & happy. It felt great. But, now… now it’s just fucked – nothing but resentment & stress.”
I thought about it for a few minutes, then I turned to my husband. “I know what we should do for Christmas.”
The answer was so obvious, we couldn’t believe how long it took us to see it.
We skipped the gifts, the tree & the decorations. We tried our best to avoid anyone who pissed & moaned about whether you should say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”. We ignored everyone who wanted to lecture about “keeping Christ in Christmas” & closed our ears to talk of wanting & shopping. These are the people who suck the magic out of Christmas.
Instead, we contacted some local charities & asked them if we could lend a hand. We ended up working with Les petits frères des Pauvres (The Little Brothers of the Poor).
You may have already heard of it, but for those of you who haven’t, Les petits frères is an international non-profit that was founded here in France in 1946. They focus on aiding the elderly who may be ill, lonely or impoverished.
Our task was to fetch two elderly ladies from their homes on Christmas morning & take them to a restaurant where all of the volunteers & guests would share a repas de Noël.
We chatted on the way to the restaurant & after we arrived, we helped other volunteers to get several more guests inside & seated at their tables.
After everyone was settled, we had a nice meal with lamb, smoked salmon, red wine & brie. We listened to interesting stories. We joked & laughed & danced. We clapped & hooted as we watched dozens of elderly men & women in Santa hats dancing, singing & laughing like children.
I looked over at Olivier, who had been smiling all day… & I realized I’d had a silly grin on my face, too. I glanced over at two ladies, one of them 100 years old… the other, 106. I thought of what it might be like to live that long & I realized… I’m still just a brand-new person by comparison.
Standing there, with a goofy grin on my face, clapping my hands among all of that joy & merriment, I suddenly thought of how magical Christmas used to be & all of a sudden, it was again.
Later, on our way home, after we had delivered our two new friends safely to their respective homes, Olivier & I decided that we would be volunteering with Les petits frères again in the future.
If any of you are interested in volunteering with Les Petits Frères, click on the link below. They are in 8 different countries, so you may find them in your area.
“Want to keep Christ in Christmas? Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, forgive the guilty, welcome the unwanted, care for the ill, love your enemies, and do unto others as you would have done unto you.” – Steve Maraboli