When I was a child, the holiday season could be described by using one word. Magical. Pure and not exactly simple, there was no other word that could describe it so well.
Times were hard for our family when I was growing up. Money didn’t “grow on trees” back then any more than it does now. My dad worked long hours and my mom took on an assortment of difficult side-jobs to make ends meet. She always ensured that, somehow, we had gifts under our tree on Christmas and that was not an easy thing to with a lot of kids. We always heard from adults that Christmas is about giving and not receiving. I tried my very best to fully grasp that concept as a kid, but at the same time, I wished and hoped with all of my might that I’d be on the receiving end of someone else’s happiness.
As an adult, I always tried to make it special for my kids as well. Whether I accomplished that as much as my mom did, all I can do is hope. However, as time went on, I began to feel that something was missing from it all, something very important. No gift or package given or received seemed to fill that piece of my heart that was missing since childhood. One day I realized what it was…I was missing Santa Claus.
What was my problem? An adult isn’t supposed to need Santa. He only brings gifts and joy for kids. Why did I feel so sad and have such longing? I am a grown-up now, I am supposed to take care of myself. As rebellious as I wanted to be against the idea of needing Santa, I found myself missing Santa more than I ever imagined.
Then one Christmas when my kids were young, we were going through some very rough economic times. Things were very tight and gifts were almost completely out of the question. It was okay for my youngest, she was just a baby, but I was very disappointed in the fact that we could do so little. I felt the Christmas spirit just melt away. A friend of mine from an online mom’s group figured out what was going on, and without my knowledge, she organized a group of other friends who took it upon themselves to send a load of gifts for our family. What they did for us was amazing.
I began to feel a glimmer of what was missing in my heart, in my longing for Santa. It was the true meaning of who Santa is…the spirit of giving. It’s about making a difference, even if it’s for one small family living on the other side of the country or world.
After that year, I began doing more for others during the holiday season, and made sure our family donated each and every year since then. Though I had given in the past somewhat, I realized how one small thing we do right now can possibly make a tremendous difference in the life of another.
A few years after this had happened, we found ourselves in another kind of rough time. My husband had been laid off and I had been in a car accident and had suffered a serious concussion a few months before. Due to this, I wasn't able to work and I actually have very little recollection of that time in September after my accident until early December, with bits and pieces missing for the entire year afterward. We knew times were rough, but we had so much to be to be thankful for. We were able to buy a few gifts, and other years would be better, brighter. However, that year I was just going through the motions of the season, and really just wanted it to be over.
About a week before Christmas that year, I was in a local store parking lot and found a $20 bill that had blown to the ground by my feet. I looked around to see if someone had dropped it, but there was no one nearby. I picked the money up, thinking how it could buy a gift or two, but instead I had a better idea. I folded it up into a small square, so no one would suspect it was more than a dollar. Then I dropped it in the Salvation Army kettle outside the store. I realized that almost instantly, I had a spring in my step and a smile on my face. I was on to something. Even though times were tough, I knew that found money would help someone who needed it much more than I did. I began to feel what I had felt as a child at Christmas, the excitement, the thrill that I had been missing. Could it be…?
The next day, we took our kids to Toys R Us for them to pick out one small gift for each other. My daughter, who was 3 at the time, found a Barbie scooter in the store which she rode up and down every aisle of the store. She was the essence of childhood, a cherub with bouncing blonde curls and a smile that lit up the faces of all those in her path.
The pink blur continued to whiz around, and I followed both girl and scooter throughout the store. She caught the attention of one shopper who said to me: “Oh, you have to get that for her for Christmas, it is the perfect gift”. I smiled at her and said “Yes it is, but we already bought their gifts this year, it will have to wait.” The shopper looked at me and said “Oh, but it was meant for her, look how much she loves it”. I agreed and told her that maybe we would get that next year, and that times were a little tight. I told her how that was okay, we had already finished our shopping and all was good. She might have sensed something of the tiredness that was probably in the tone of my voice, or maybe she saw the look of worry, sadness and pure weariness of a long couple of months that I thought I hid so well behind my brown eyes.
As I left the store, the shopper who had been talking to me about the scooter approached from the parking lot and said to me “Your daughter has to have that scooter for Christmas, I insist!” and she firmly pushed some money into my hand, which I handed back saying, “Oh no, really we will be fine, they have gifts."
But, she would not take it back, instead she held my hands
together and said to me “I really want to do this, please take this, it will be
my gift, I won some money from the lottery, and I want to do this more than
anything. There is also some extra for your boys”. She gave me a hug as I stood
there protesting through tears. I was shaking and could hardly speak, but I
continued to protest. At the same time,
the thought of what she was trying to do was incredible.
I was overwhelmed with this kindness from a stranger. I continued telling her how much we appreciated it but couldn't possibly take it, there were others who could use it much more than us. She told me that she would not hear of anything else and refused to take it, and asked me to please do this for her, for us, and especially for the little girl with the bouncing curls and smiling eyes. I was stunned. What was this from the heart of a stranger? This was kindness from someone who didn't know anything about me.
This is where Christmas spirit comes from, the magic that is Santa Claus, this was the true meaning of giving.
A few years ago, I found myself bogged down again with life, the usual stuff with deadlines, appointments, commitments and events. It led to stress, stress and more stress. I once again felt like the spirit wasn't quite with me, despite the beautiful lights and cheery decorations. Sometimes, life hands us a little too much. Things were definitely better than they had been those years before, but I just wasn’t feeling that spirit. Where was Santa? In all honesty, I know I shouldn’t have been feeling that way. I shouldn’t have forgotten what the spirit was all about. But there I was again. Santa would abandon me for sure this time, because I shouldn’t have been feeling so down when things weren’t so bad.
One night that season, when I was really fed up with the stress of life, I had to go out to run an errand in the evening. I realized, once again, I was just going through the motions of the holiday season. I drove by the incredibly huge and beautiful Christmas tree that lights up my small town each year. However, that year it was missing something. It was a gigantic redwood tree all decorated for the entire town to enjoy. It had dazzling white lights up the sides, but the star on top was missing and had been damaged in a recent storm. I looked up at it and thought to myself how that incomplete tree really summed up how I had been feeling about things lately. All of the glory of the lights on the tree, but it was missing the one thing that made it shine.
As I looked up at it, a very strange feeling came over me as an image began to form in my brain. Not just a little something, but something…spectacular. No, it couldn’t be…or could it really be? If I moved myself over just a little in that direction then…
I pulled over into a store parking lot, and got out of my car to take a good look at the sight before my eyes. It was real, not just my imagination. I saw something that amazed me beyond belief. I realized that I had just received my Christmas gift. On top of the glorious tree before me, there was a spectacular sight. The tree was no longer missing the light on top of the tree. However, it wasn’t a star, but another celestial body that was fitting for this huge tree. Instead, it was something even better than any star made of light bulbs. It was the most sparkling bright light that has ever topped a Christmas tree. It was the full moon.
The real full moon was sitting there on top of the tree where the lighted star had once been. Wow. This was a true reminder that things are not always as dim and bleak as we think they are. It truly was my gift, because I had also just found the light that helped me shine a little brighter. It was there all the time, I just had to put it together.
I sat in my car for a few moments, overwhelmed with the Christmas spirit that had suddenly entered my formerly Grinchy self. I sat there and laughed at myself and my former gloomy mood. Why had I been feeling so sad? Why do we take the small things so seriously and close off the world around us? I asked myself why I was feeling so down, and then I figured it out. What had I given of myself to others this season? I actually volunteer a lot of my time all year long, but did I actually give in the spirit of Santa or in the spirit of Christmas? No, not really. I was too busy thinking about what I couldn't do, and what I didn't have instead of appreciating all that I do have, and I all that I could give.
I only had my cell phone with me that night to take a few photos, but those grainy, pixelated photos are probably some of the most special photos I have ever taken. I included one of the photos with the full moon on the tree with this article.
Despite the fact that times can be rough, we always have something we can give of ourselves. Happiness really does come from giving; it wasn’t just something our parents told us so we’d stop asking for more presents. The magic is truly in the giving and not the receiving, and I don’t mean just material things.
At that moment, as I looked out my car window, I swore that I saw a red sparkling shimmer of magic dust in a dark corner of the parking lot, and maybe a distant ringing of sleigh bell...Yes, Santa is alive and well.