Well the holidays are here, and it’s that time of the year to start thinking about gifts, cards, and spending time with family and friends. Now while that may sound alright, in my opinion, we have lost the whole meaning of the holiday. To me the holidays have become a time of immense pressure and stress. Walking into my local big-box retailer starts to become a real adventure this time of the year. It’s always packed with more people than I care to be around – all wandering the aisles aimlessly trying to find those perfect gifts. Every year, it seems like the stores are trying to push you into a holiday buying frame of mind way earlier than the previous year. I saw Christmas trees set up in stores this year as early as SEPTEMBER! I don’t know about you, but I don’t even want to begin thinking about Christmas till after I get to enjoy Thanksgiving!
This year I am making a conscious effort to focus on the things that are most important this holiday season. For me that has always been family. I’m fortunate enough to have a wonderful family who has supported me through the years, and I know that really is THE most important thing in my life. Now, my family is by no means perfect. We all have our issues and my family definitely has its fair share, but when you peel away all of the layers, the core remains strong, and I guess that is what is key.
Just like other families, we have always had our traditional ways of celebrating Christmas, which usually consisted of getting the family together and having a meal. Then we would open gifts, watch the football game, and call it a night. I am sure most can relate.
When I was a kid, there was one Christmas that really sticks out in my mind, and surprisingly enough it was because everything had gone wrong. I grew up on the “rough” side of town when I was young, and at one point my parents made a decision to move because they could see the influence that bad part of town was having on their kids. Now at the time we couldn’t afford to move, but my parents believed it was a necessity, so against all odds, they moved us out to the country. The bills started piling up pretty quickly. The furnace in the old farm house we purchased used oil heat and my parents simply could not afford to buy fuel oil. My father and I spent days out in the woods cutting down trees and heating the house with a wood stove made out of a barrel. Needless to say we were flat broke, and when Christmas rolled around, they simply had no money for gifts.
I remember getting up that Christmas morning and thinking it was going to be a rough day. The normal routine was to open gifts and then load-up and go to my grandparents’ house, and this day was no different other than the fact we had no gifts to share. I remember the stress on my parents that morning. My mother was really upset and emotional, and my father was silent. Simply put, my father is one of those tough guys who never gets emotional, but you could see this day was weighing on him heavily. Knowing him, he felt like a failure, and I say that simply because I know I would feel the same way if I were in his shoes. My family compares me to my father quite often, so I think I can understand how he felt. Failure was never something we accepted very well, and I remember feeling sorry for both of my parents that day. Surely not being able to buy gifts for your child has to be a terrible feeling.
So that Christmas morning we ate breakfast and shared the little things we had, then we loaded up to go to my grandparents’ house. Once everyone got there, my grandparents started handing out the gifts they got for us, and this is when things started to get “special.” After some small gifts my grandmother handed me a large box and I started opening it up. I remember my grandparents watching me intently as I opened the gift. When I opened it I was thrilled to find it was the one thing I really wanted. Now what the gift was isn’t important, what did matter was when I looked up, my father was crying. Now seeing my father cry was simply something that did not happen when I was a kid. He is a Vietnam vet and has seen a lot of heartache in his time. For many years, I really didn’t think he was capable of shedding tears. His emotion led to a complete “blubber-fest” in my grandparents’ living room that day, and in that moment, the true meaning of the holidays became clear.
To this day, that moment was one of the most special times in my life. I will never forget that day. It wasn’t about the gifts, it was about the experience. We shared a moment in time that will always have a very special place in my heart.
So as the holidays approach, try to keep things in perspective. Look for those opportunities to create special moments with your family and friends. Gifts fade, but the memories you create will last forever.