The weather continues on in a spectacular vein, with shafts of light shooting above and below the clouds at sunset and the mornings crystal clear. Orion’s belt was crowning Waialeale when Koko and I went walking this morning in a star-packed world that was so cold it required me to double up on sweatshirts.
As we walked, the blackness faded, then shifted in the east to the faintest flush of pink, a sky poised on the brink of dawn. In the distance, a mist lake formed in the hollow of a pasture, creating a landscape befitting of such adjectives as ethereal and magical.
I’ve been thinking a bit about what really constitutes the magic of Christmas, ever since a friend told me his wife had said this would probably be the peak year for Christmas magic, given that their children are now 4 and 6.
At those ages, they're old enough to understand and young enough to still believe, or at least, most of them, and some keep believing much later than that. I know I held out until age 8, buoyed by the proof of a letter from Santa with a bonafide North Pole postmark. Now kids can go on line to view their own customized video from Santa, as I discovered when a friend sent one to me. I was relieved to learn Santa has me down as nice, and not naughty, which means he knows me a lot better than the anonymous trolls that leave nasty personal jabs on this blog.
Although I usually just ignore much of the Christmas hoopla, this year I’ve been out shopping quite a bit as I prepare a holiday party, replete with gift-wrapped prizes and candy-filled goody bags, for about 200 people, scheduled for tonight. It’s all my part of my newish job, which is part social worker, part social director. Seeing the extravagant displays, and the promises that this or that gift will impart the magic of Christmas, I’ve become aware of the intense pressure that folks feel to find presents that will satisfy, even as I also know, after reading about it in The Week, that people tend to devalue things they get as gifts.
So you’re really better off saving your money and giving, as one saying goes, more presence and less presents.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give at all.
The other day I was talking to a woman who had just returned from California, where she’d spent six weeks in a hotel with her two kids while one was undergoing surgery. The insurance paid for the hotel, but not for meals out, so the ordeal had left her financially and emotionally drained.
When she got home she discovered that she’d lost her eligibility for food stamps and her job had been cut back to part-time. And to top it off, the food pantry that serves the area where she lives was no longer going to be distributing food because some people had taken more than their share, causing a fight to break out among recipients.
“I really counted on that food pantry,” said the woman, who also revealed she had been widowed just weeks before her youngest child was born. Her two sons, meanwhile, are serving in Iraq. “And now that I'm working part-time, it's like I'm just working to pay for my gas. No matter how I try, I just can’t get ahead.”
I’ve learned in my job that if you’re totally helpless, the government will do quite a bit to assist you. But if you’re working, you’re much more likely to fall through the widening cracks.
“You know,” I said to the woman, “I was just today given a $50 gift certificate to Safeway with the instructions to give it to someone who really needs it. And I think that's you.”
I also gave her a ham, one that had been donated to the Kauai Food Bank for distribution to folks that need it.
Her face and mood brightened considerably, even as she then recounted that all the toys for her community had been stolen from the Toys for Tots distribution area.
“Those were for the kids,” she said in disbelief. “How could someone steal them? When did it stop being all about the kids? Did I miss that shift?”
No, I assured her, she hadn’t. Christmas is still about the kids.
And as I thought about the man I don’t know who had purchased the gift card and all the folks who drop money in the Salvation Army kettles and toys in the donation boxes and food at the Food Bank, I knew that despite the bad deeds of some, and the pressures to turn it into a materialistic frenzy, Christmas is also still very much about giving to perfect strangers, with no thought of getting something in return.
Now that's the magic of the season.