The Spirit of Christmas Present 2008

A week from tonight is Christmas Eve, the night Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ at least perfunctorily anyway. For most of the children of the world, it is the night that Santa Claus comes and rewards them for their good behavior.

However, this year will be a lot different than most of those kids, especially in the USA, are accustomed to. The dire straits of the economy will make it hard for many parents, myself included, to do much in the way of providing Christmas presents for our children, and that is very painful. When I was much younger, growing  up as an immigrant kid outside of Philadelphia, I remember a lot of Christmases where times were tough.

To this day, I remember our first Christmas in America in 1952. I was four and we had just moved to Philadelphia from a chicken farm in New Jersey. I wonder if there are still chicken farms in New Jessey. Working on that farm was the first job my Dad had in this country. We moved to Philadelphia because my Dad had gotten a better job working in a mattress factory.

Times were tough for us. All my brother and I got for Christmas that year was a giant size Hershey bar and one toy each. I got a hook-and ladder fire truck. I did not gt much in the way of presents, but I was as happy as any four-year-old could be. I was loved. The house smelled of my mother baking Christmas cookies and stollen, a German sweet yeast bread with raisins and candied fruit. I don’t remember what we had for dinner, though. Besides, I was more interested in the cookies and the stollen!

My wife, who is German and Polish by descent, and the granddaughter of immigrants, is taking next week off from work as her annual vacation. She is going to do the same things for our kids that our mothers did for us: bake cookies and stollen, so our kids will have an old=fashioned German Christmas, complete with roast boar- ham. We don’r have much money for Christmas presents this year, probably something along the lines of when I was four/ But our kids will know the true Christmas spirit. And that is what really matters. Whether you celebrate the holiday as a Christian or something else, Christmas is about love and family above all else.

It has been extremely cold here and we’ve had sleet and freezing rain for the last few days. Not much, just enough to create hazardous driving conditions on the rural mountain roads around here, and so, I’ve been up early every morning listening to the radio for school closings. The kids have not had school yet this week.

As I was listening to the local radio station’s broadcast of the ABC national news at 5 AM yesterday, they did a short piece on the problems of parents faced with the economic realities and Christmas fantasies of their kids. They had some head shrinker on, talking about how it was okay to tell your kids that the economic crisis is also affecting Santa Claus and that means less this year under the tree.

I though t that was pretty cool, until the last sentence. I can’t remember if it was the shrink or the broadcaster who mentioned it, but it seems that a lot of parents are seeing shrinks about this problem I have two things to say about that:

First, these are probably people in the more up-scale economic brackets, not working class or poor people. Seeing a shrink is something that is generally reserved for the more fortunate. As far as their woes about presents for their kids go, well, welcome to my world.

Secondly, instead of spending hundreds pf dollars to see a shrink, spend the money on your kids. Who’s more important in your life anyway – your shrink or your kinds?

I think there is a lesson for us all this Christmas. Christmas is not about conspicuous consumption. It’s not about shopping till you drop. It;s not about giving your children everything material they want. It’s about showing them the true meaning of the holiday. The fundamentalist Christians call it “putting Christ back in Christmas,” but the holiday and the reasons for it are far, far older than Christianity, going back to the ancient Egyptians and probably even further. The holiday is about love, hope and the return of the Light, no matter what name you use for that Light.

The blessings of the season and of the Light to you all.

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