Saturday, December 24, 2011

It's Not (Just) the Christmas Spirit

I've got a bone to pick with the "Christmas Spirit."  

Now, now ... don't panic - this is not a religious (or anti-religious) rant.  I am not looking to cause controversy, and I am grateful for whatever belief system brings anyone peace of mind, so I would never challenge that.  I'm not feeling the ambivalence of last year's Holiday Purple, either.  Though this holiday season naturally brings the sadness of missing Gram (really, I feel that loss every day), I'm feeling more festive this holiday season than I have in a while.  I finished my shopping early, got our tree decorated in time to put all the presents under it, spent quality time with family for Hanukkah, and I'm now looking forward to our traditional Eve alone and Day with the in-laws tomorrow.  I don't have a problem with Christmas (or any other December holiday) or the spirit of the season ... but if you ask me, that "Christmas Spirit" is a bit of a credit hog.

I read an article this morning about a woman who - though disabled and poor herself - spends her time giving to others.  Though she lives on a minimal disability check, she saves part of that every month to give to the sick and the homeless.  Despite her own hardships, she feels she has been blessed, and pays it forward seeking only the grateful smile of the recipient (read the article here).

Last week, I read about a new trend that seems to be spreading around the country.  Anonymous donors have been paying off the layaway bills of random strangers at local Kmart stores.  Some go into the store, stand by the layaway counter, and take out their own wallets when customers come to make a payment.  Others do it even more discreetly, so that customers get a surprise phone call letting them know that their bills have been paid.  One woman did this in memory of her husband, who had just passed away.  She would not give her own name, but only asked the recipients to remember him (read that story here).

Earlier this month (in my last list of smiles), I told you about an artist at a craft fair who donated a few pieces of pink ribbon jewelry when she heard where I work.  She asked me to give them to people who had been affected, and to let her know of any other opportunities for her to donate more.  She was so eager to give, and seemed grateful to me for providing the avenue for her to do so.  I mailed out the packages, and the response I got made me cry.  I felt honored to be able to offer these gifts that came to mean so much to their recipients.  

When we hear stories like this in December, it's easy to talk about the "Christmas Spirit" that fills people's hearts, leading to uncharacteristic acts of generosity.  We celebrate the anomalous act, and give credit to the holiday season that inspired it.  Though these stories are inspiring, and these people are committing acts of generosity, I feel we do ourselves a disservice by looking at them only through holiday goggles.  

Think about it: if the Christmas Spirit inspires unusual or unnatural acts of kindness and generosity, then on December 26th everyone can go back to being selfish and uncaring for another eleven and a half months.  While that does give us something to smile at for the moment, it seems like a much longer time to do without.      That would be pretty sad, and I just don't think it's the reality we live in.

The woman I read about this morning helps people out all year long, and she's not the only one.  Shows like Extreme Makeover Home Edition showcase communities coming together to help those in need for life, not just for the holidays.  Every day, people give: to charitable causes, to soup kitchens, to homeless shelters.  Every day, people help: the sick, the poor, the needy.  Every day, people share: their time, their money, their hearts.

I remember many years ago, someone asked my mom why she, Gram, and I got involved with whichever charitable cause we were working on at the moment.  It's a great question - usually, it's the stories that connect us to the cause that in turn connect us to each other.  That time, however, my mom had a much more universal answer.  We weren't helping out in support of a friend or relative who had that affliction.  We weren't doing it for the time of year or the credit on our resume.  We were doing it, as she so eloquently put it ... "because we can."

So to the famous "Christmas Spirit," I've got a message for you.  You are a welcome and refreshing breeze during an otherwise cold season, but I will not miss you when you're gone.  I won't have to.  You see, these random (and not so random) acts of kindness are simply a reflection of the Human Spirit, which will be around all throughout the year.  

**If you like what you read, tell a friend.  In fact, tell me, too - post a comment below.  If you don't like it ... well ... I'm all for honesty, but please be gentle!