Christmastime Is About Giving

Jade Moon
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Wednesday - December 21, 2011
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You know you’re old when you start saying this every year: Is it Christmas already? It’s a marker we can’t ignore. Seems like yesterday I was packing up ornaments and sweeping needles off the floor.

The holidays are funny. We love them and look forward to them, but they also can bring sadness, stress and even pain. I was reminded of this the other day while, of all things, sitting in a parking lot, waiting. It’s a fact of “mom life” that you end up doing a whole lot of that sitting and waiting while the kids do what they do: sports, music, shopping, whatever. Saturday mornings mean drum lessons for my son, and I snagged a spot right next to a mini van and within sight of the Christmas tree tent. It was a prime location. I fired up my Kindle and soon was lost in a book. I had an hour to kill.

Engaged as I was in the story, I didn’t, at first, hear what was going on in the van next to me. But they were making a bit of noise, so eventually I looked up. There were five of them a mom, a dad and three kids. The oldest was a boy who looked about 8 or 9. The middle and youngest were girls. Mom and Dad were taking turns escorting the kids to the bathroom at the fast-food restaurant. First Mom took the two younger girls, and then Dad took the boy.

I wasn’t spying on them and definitely not staring, but they kept the side door to the van wide open. That’s how I got a quick glimpse of what looked like piles of stuff pillows, blankets, all wadded up, toys and fast-food wrappers, clothes.

I put my head down and kept on reading. They hung out in the van.

Some minutes later I witnessed something that made me happy. A family of four walked from the housing development behind the shopping center toward the Christmas tree tent. Mom and Dad strolled in front, two little boys followed behind. It was how the boys were dressed that made me smile. Never mind the tropical Hawaiian sun, they wore long scarves, red fuzzy Santa hats and mittens! They were decked out and in the spirit to pick out their tree. Adorable. I know Christmas must be pretty special in their home.

I went back to my book, mindful of the family still hanging out in the van next to me. Something about them was a little odd, a little off, but I couldn’t figure out what it was. They ate fast-food breakfast and then just stuck around.

I thought about them on the way home. I thought about them as I went about my day. And then I had a sort of “ah ha!” moment. Were they homeless? Were they living in their van?

Now, I could be wrong, and I’m hoping I’m wrong. They really could have been there for a routine bathroom stop. Or maybe they were hanging out because they were waiting for someone, like I was. But my gut tells me otherwise. What gets me is I will never really know.

What I do know is that I was reminded once again of the differing realities of the holidays for families. There will be magic and happiness for some. Others stare bleakly in the face of expectations they cannot possibly meet.

There really are families who can’t afford trees, and parents who will scrape and scratch to buy presents for their kids. There will even be families who will try to celebrate Christmas in a van or the backseat of a car.

There are things we can all do to alleviate the stress of the holidays for families in need. If you can, please make a donation of whatever you can afford to your favorite charity. Just put it on your to-do list, right at the top. It will make Christmas a little more cheery for someone, somewhere. Remember, it really is better to give than to receive.

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