Things to Remember This Christmas

steff's christmas card 2006 resizedSince 1998, I’ve had every kind of Christmas imaginable. Lonely, magnificent, rich, broke, injured, healthy, in love, out of love. Had ’em all.

I was raised to believe in the magic of Christmas. We’d have a houseful of people singing carols, Dad would make his famous cardiac eggnog, the house was full of decorations and laughter, and us kids would even have visits from Santa, who brought every child there a gift. It really was magical.

When my mother died in 1999, I was pretty sure Christmas would never feel that Magical again. And, yeah, I was right — it hasn’t. But my life isn’t over, and “dreams” don’t always have to be big, flashy, and involve a credit card. Sometimes they can just be about getting back to the heart of what made your life wonderful and good once.

Not everyone has had a magical Christmas. Not everyone has known what that kind of good will and cheer and boisterous fun can be like. At least I had that — and in childhood, where a memory can last a lifetime, and provide a framework for that which you aspire throughout that lifetime.

These days, I don’t aspire for magic — I just aspire for a little joy, goodness, and friendship.

This year, there will be people left alone, doing anything they can to avoid everything Christmas-related on television, trying to convince themselves it’s anything BUT the most magical night of the year.

Because, for them, it’s not magical. For them, it’s a reminder of their loneliness, their wants, their desperation, and maybe even where they’ve gone horribly wrong in the last year.

It’s a time during which a lot of people WILL realize it’s the first time they’re celebrating the wonder of the season without a loved one, or in the fresh light of a divorce, or with a debilitating new health condition that limits their ability to enjoy it. The first time always cuts the deepest. I know, I’ve been there for a few “firsts”.

I’ve experienced heartbroken Christmases, the kind of loneliness that’s left me standing at the window of my apartment, gazing at the lazy morning of happiness unfolding in apartments across the way. But the difference for me was, I’ve sort of believed deep down that my loneliness would be short-lived and it was what I needed to experience, for whatever reason, at that time.

But what of the people who can’t have that perspective? Those who are devastated by the loneliness? What of those who are waiting, slowly hoping for their own Christmas miracle, unsure of how to ask the right people in order to bring it about, but who instead wait on a wing and a prayer, hoping the magic simply unfolds without provocation?

And why does it matter to you?

It doesn’t. Not really. But you can choose to let it.

Because that’s what Christmas REALLY is.

It’s not Hallmark and batteries-included. It’s not diamonds and slippers and mugs of hot mulled wine. It’s about the very nature of humanity and what it is that makes being human such a marvellous thing — it’s about everything good that we as a people are capable of.

This time of year, I talk to more strangers. I smile at the people who seem to need it, I linger if they make small talk, I look them in the eye. When I can’t afford it, on a cold and brutal day, I’ll find a nice homeless fella to buy a giant hot chocolate for.

It doesn’t take a lot to remind people that kindness exists. But that reminder can be more powerful than I hope you will ever need to know.

It doesn’t take a lot to remember that this season is about goodness — not just to those you know, who can thank you later, who’ll be in your life day-in, day-out, who you might just be placating with that gift or visit, but ALSO to those who don’t experience goodness often.

There are those who, over the course of this past year — for whatever reason — may have lost their hope in the future. They may have lost their belief in their friends. They may be feeling alone and like any good in life has forsaken them.

You should never, ever assume their condition is permanent.

Kindness can change the world. Show some. Be the change you want to see in the world, let it start now, this week, this season. Don’t wait another day.

See if there’s some good person who’s without a Christmas dinner this year — you have a week left. Invite them. Make them welcome.

If you can’t invite someone and let them into your life for the night, maybe then you can show them kindness in the days before the holiday, and after.

It’s like Armistead Maupin wrote in the inimitable series Tales of the City: There’s no morning of the year that waking up alone feels more isolated and lonely than that of Christmas morning.

There’s something palpable in the air on Christmas day — that moment that comes but once a year, with weeks of hype and glory leading up to its passing. And it’s magnificent when you have people you love in your life. It’s unbeatable when you have the perfect Christmas day filled with food and family and fun.

And when you don’t?

There’s no day upon which your losses, heartbreaks, loneliness, and neediness shines more brightly.

This year, for my Christmas present, in thanks for all the writing I do for you for free all year round, I’m asking that you look for a small, real way to improve someone else’s life, if only for a moment.

Tell me what you’ve done, if you wish, or keep it in your heart for only you to know (the method I usually prefer) — I don’t care. But, please, BE Christmas this year.

Some ideas:

* Offer a homeless person a hot lunch, a sandwich, a beverage, anything — don’t just throw coins in their cup. Interact, ask them what they’d like, and then give it to them. It’s really not much, it’ll cost you five dollars, but the mere act of asking that they WANT or NEED validates that they’re a human, not just someone to throw pity at. It’s not about the pity, it’s about the humanity — something they don’t get often when people walk past, scowling at the indignity of that homeless person having the NERVE to sit on THAT sidewalk. Be better than the heartless, indifferent, skeptical throngs.

* Invite a lonely friend or co-worker to enjoy Christmas with those you’re gathering among. If they can afford it, ask them to bring something so they feel included, a part of the event, rather than some lonely fuck who’s been invited out of pity.

* Instead of throwing blankets and coats into another donation bin, experience the feeling of choosing & giving it to someone on the street. Remember, just because they’re where they are now doesn’t mean they haven’t lived an incredible life and have stories worth telling. See beyond the dirty, needy face before you, and accept the person within.

* Pick a family one of your friends or coworkers knows, or someone from your church or any other organization, and put together a great food box so they don’t have to be scared of where the festive meals are going to come from, and instead of milking the moment, just be sure the box discreetly finds its way to the people in question.

* Smile at people who seem miserable and grumpy, overlook their short moods, and just try to indulge them a little — just because YOU don’t know how hard this time of year can be for some people doesn’t mean you can’t be understanding of it when you see its less agreeable side.

Remember, while you’re in a panic about getting gifts for people or time-managing your way through to the big night, others are in a panic about how January 1st’s rent will be paid, how they’ll explain to their kids that Santa values them less and gives THEM smaller toys than their friends, or even panicking over whether the little food they can buy will stretch through the week.

Christmas is about more than big meals, gifts, and lofty drinks with high times and good friends.

It’s about love, community, sharing, understanding, hope for the year to come, reflecting on the year gone by, and a belief that, yes, Virginia, there is a better person inside us all.

Please, with the week you have remaining before Christmas, remember that this season is about MORE than just you and your family — live it, show it, share it. Don’t just spend it in malls and parties.

This Christmas, be MORE.

Thank you.