Three Weeks Until Christmas
Last night, late, when the house was quiet and the only sound was the winter wind whipping the lifeless trees, I watched the flame of a single candle flicker and thought about what Christmas means to me. I looked out the window and saw a winter scene painted by an unseen hand – snow swirling in the streets, dark, leafless branches of a sleeping maple and a Japanese cherry, Christmas lights adorning the house across the street. And it occurred to me, then, that Christmas is only three weeks away. When I was a small child, those three weeks would have seemed an eternity as I waited for Santa Claus and the bounty of gifts I was sure he would bring. Three weeks until Christmas. How different – how much shorter three weeks seems now than it did when I was a child.
Three weeks is but a tick of the clock now.
The flame of the candle flickers and before I know it, Christmas will be just another memory in an aging warehouse of memories that grows larger and larger and darker and darker as I grow older and older.
A draft nearly blows the candle out, but the flame only bends. It flickers on – like I do.
Three weeks until Christmas.
Many people will be rushing around today trying to finish their Christmas shopping. Some people set spending limits based on the importance of the people in their lives. Uncle John? He gets a $25 gift certificate for Home Depot. Maybe he can buy something for his workshop. A sister might get a $600 iPad – she loves to watch music videos in the gym while she tones her narcissism. A son or daughter might get a $300 Xbox or new $600 laptop.
Some people’s gifts reflect the importance of the person to whom they are giving it. Certain people are worth certain gifts. The more important the person, the more expensive the gift. I’m sure there are a lot of people who buy Christmas gifts this way. Most of us don’t have unlimited resources, after all – therefore we must budget the money we have and spend judiciously.
Is Christmas really all about money? Why do we buy for those we care about at Christmas time? Does it really have anything at all to do with the Three Wise Men, who followed the Star of Bethlehem, bearing gifts of gold, myrrh and frankincense for the Christ child? Or, do we buy gifts because we must buy gifts?
Do we really want to buy that gift certificate for uncle John? We hardly ever saw him during the year, but he’ll come around at Christmas, collect his gift and share a smile — then he’ll leave for another year – clutching his $25 Home Depot Gift Certificate as he waves goodbye.
The candle flickers, the wind is persistent and the night turns into morning. It’s just past midnight. The hour when the old day is dead and a new day is born.
Three weeks until Christmas.
I think about the children, so innocent and true. Children who trust and believe in Santa Claus. A little girl wants a soccer ball. A soccer ball. How cute. She doesn’t want a laptop or a $600 iPad, she wants a $10 soccer ball. Children don’t measure gifts by how much they cost, they measure the gifts that come complete with dreams.
Somewhere inside that little girl’s head is a vision of what she could do with a soccer ball. One second left in the game and she kicks the ball and scores a goal! She wins the game for her team.
A little boy wants a baseball and a baseball mitt. He leaps high in the air, up against the fence in right field and makes a tremendous catch and saves the game for his team. Children’s minds are full of dreams –and full of hope. They are uncluttered and free of realities and responsibilities. Children create a world of their own and the only gift we need to be sure we give them is the gift of love.
But somewhere in this world a child is hungry. She huddles weak and sick in some cold, dark place, her father dead and her mother dying. Her dreams are different. She dreams of something – anything – to eat. Just a bit of bread or some honey – anything to kill or quell that constant, nagging hunger. For this child, dreams are meager and hope is slight.
She will wake tomorrow hungry and yearning – but there won’t be anything for her to eat. Her mother will find something to keep them both alive – if she is lucky. Christmas means nothing at all – it’s just another day of foraging and struggling to keep warm and to stay alive. But they do have one special gift and they will share it; they have each other. In a world as cruel as the one in which they live, gifts are treasures, far beyond the reach of money. Their world is a world most of us like to pretend doesn’t exist. But closing our eyes doesn’t make that little girl go away. She’s there, whether we think about her or not.
Somewhere, even in this wealthy country of ours, there is a family who is living in a dirty, wet, cold place – shivering in this land of great wealth. Dressed in rags and penniless, they live each day hoping that dad or mom will find work and earn enough money to make a better life. These poor parents cannot even think about buying a soccer ball or a baseball or a baseball glove. For their children, the only gifts they can give is love and the hope that next year will be better. They don’t worry about rushing to Macy’s to pick up a last-minute gift. They don’t have to worry about Wii’s or iPods or netbooks. An orange or an apple for each child – or perhaps taking the children to shelter for a free turkey dinner – would be the greatest gifts they could hope for this Christmas. Tonight, this family will sleep in a dank, dirty, dangerous place and cling to the only gift they have for sure – the gift of the love they all share.
Somewhere in this world a Wall Street executive is buying his girlfriend a new $25,000 diamond necklace. Diamonds are forever. He’ll have the sales clerk at the store pick it out and he’ll have someone at the store gift wrap it and he’ll tuck it under his arm and rush off in a taxi to a meeting somewhere. He’ll give her the necklace – that he didn’t pick out and didn’t wrap – on Christmas morning. And she’ll give him a kiss and she’ll tell him how much she loves him. Next year he’ll buy a different necklace for a different girl.
And somewhere else a poor, little girl and her mom are wandering through the filthy streets, looking for a scrap of food to keep them alive for another day. And, unless something changes, next year they’ll be doing the same – IF they are both lucky enough to be alive. But if they are alive, they will still have each other — and they will still have the love they share.
The candle flickers and the clock ticks, ticks, ticks, ticks on in the darkness. The wind is howling still, and the snow is swirling in the waving shadows of the trees sadly bending in the winter wind.
Christmas means different things to different people. Christmas isn’t a day, it’s a spirit. I think about those who have much less than I, and I wonder why? Christmas shouldn’t be something we celebrate just one day a year, the spirit of Christmas should be inside us every day of the year. But soon this season will be forgotten and the world will go on as if it were never Christmas – as if there had never been a Christmas. The Christmas lights my linger on for another week or three but they, like the Spirit of Christmas, will fade away. All that will be left will be the winter winds and the swirling snow — and the dreams of children.
Somewhere a child is hungry. Somewhere a single mom struggles to put something on the table for her children; she worries about not giving them enough for Christmas. But she gives them plenty. She gives them the greatest gift of all.
Somewhere a child is sick and in a hospital, and the only signs of Christmas for this poor child are the nurses in Santa hats and the tiny tree on the table beside her bed.
All around us, people are suffering and hungry, or sick and lonely. At Christmas we can close our eyes to the woes of the world, but as tight as we may close our eyes, we cannot make the sadness and want disappear. We can turn the Christmas music up louder to drown out the sounds of hunger and sickness and desperation – but we can’t make them go away.
The greatest gift you can ever give is love. But love not shared is not love at all. It’s easy to love those who love us and it’s easy to dislike those who don’t like us. It’s easy, in this land of plenty, to forget that all around us, there are hungry children who would be happy with the gift of a hot meal and a warm, dry place to sleep. Christmas is a time for sharing and caring, and a time love, good wishes and good cheer. But more than that, Christmas is time to remember those who suffer, who are hungry or who are sick or lonely. Remember the Reason for the Season. Remember the Spirit of Christmas. Share your love and good fortune with others less fortunate than you.
Most of all this Christmas, make sure that the first gift you give is the greatest gift of all.
Three weeks until Christmas – and those weeks will seem like a few days.
The candle’s flame flickers out … I fall asleep in my chair, dreaming of Christmas past when I was a child and Christmas was a more magical time.