GiftEveryone thinks I love the holidays. And I do. I love the decorating, the anticipation, the Christmas list, the shopping, the wrapping, the baking, Christmas dinner cooking, and the opening of presents. I just love Christmas, actually I love all the holidays. My main reason? My childhood holidays up to the age of 9 were not special. So my goal has always been to make my adult holidays special. My family often teases me that I even celebrate Ground Hog’s Day. But my goal is to try to celebrate every day.

And yet, I also understand the pain that comes with holidays. Sad memories, lost family and friends, family issues, distances keeping people apart, financial problems, illness and the list goes on and on. I remember one Christmas in particular when I was alone. Everywhere I went it seemed like everyone was a family, a couple. Was I the only person alone? Not really, but because of the emphasis on being happy during the holidays with family and friends it seemed as if I was.  Every song seemed to talk about the joy of the season and on this particular year I saw no joy.

But time has passed and I am back into the mode of celebrating everything, well maybe not Ground Hog’s Day. And then along came social media where I read and see the posts and photos of people alone or unhappy and it all comes back to me. The best and the worst of the holidays.

There is so much pressure on family members to attend and be jolly regardless of what is going on in their lives or how they feel. There is so much pressure on giving the perfect gift and wrapping it beautifully. So much pressure on gathering with family and getting together with friends. There is just so much pressure on everyone to love the holidays.

This year social media reminded me of the reality of the holidays. Pictures and posts show that not everyone is happy or has a family or friend to celebrate with. Some of my Christine’s Kids are sick, fighting off their pain of JA or the medicines they are taking trying to halt this horrible disease.  A close writer friend just lost a parent, right in the middle of the holiday season and will be attending a funeral rather than a Christmas party. I talked with a prominent doctor at a holiday event that I had enjoyed talking to at other celebrations, only to find him suffering the onset of Alzheimer’s.  Memories of my own sad holidays filled my head. Things that can’t be fixed touched my heart.

And then I came across a Facebook holiday post that offered a new approach, a new way of celebrating.

An adult son was aware of his mother’s sad holiday mood. Ever since the loss of her husband, his dad, she dreaded the holidays. He wanted to give her the perfect gift. “How about a puppy, Mom? You always loved our dog Spy,” he said only to her quick “No more dogs,” response. “ Why don’t I take you to Vegas to see Shania Twain? She’s your favorite country singer,” he asked. “Travel this time of the year is terrible! You know I don’t like to travel during the holidays,” she responded. Every idea he came up with she negated, until he came up with something totally different.

“Let’s not buy gifts for each other this year, Mom. Let’s make it about other people instead of ourselves.  Instead of buying gifts for each other I make up a list of people you can help who are less fortunate and I write down ideas on how you can help them. The goal is to keep doing good deeds and giving to others until you spend the same amount of money and time that you would normally spend on my gift,” he said watching a smile appear on her face. “Son, this is the best idea you’ve ever had,” she said.  “Great, Mom, and I want you to make a list for me and I will do the same. This Christmas we will not concentrate on ourselves. We will make it about others. Our Christmas of giving back.”

And it worked, each less fortunate person they both gave to led them to another. Their time, instead of being focused on what they didn’t have was now focused on helping others and watching their smiles of appreciation. They decided to take pictures of each step of their newly found Christmas present idea and share them with each other.  Not only did they get a gift when they gave to others, but another one when they shared them together.

For the first time in years his mom found some to put up a tiny tree and hang a few lights outside on her apartment balcony. The next time he visited he walked into the aroma of cookies baking. “Look what I made,” she proudly said, pulling a cookie sheet out of the oven with Santa

hats and Christmas tree shapes. He reached for one. “One, only one for you, because these are going to the Smith family kids this afternoon,” she said.

This story reminded me of my mother-in-law who never wanted to open her presents at Christmas, she only wanted to watch us open our gifts. She spent all year buying the things we mentioned throughout the year. Each one was wrapped like a treasure. She had the idea long ago. She got it. Christmas is not only about giving, it’s about giving back.

Merry Christmas to you.

May your heart be filled with good thoughts and may all your dreams be about helping others.

Make this your year of giving back.