Christmas looms ahead, in a dead heat with all the bills that won’t gift themselves in December, in addition to increased expenses and winter heating costs! It would be an easy time to become discouraged by all the commercial push against the withering wallet. But a question I overheard once brought to mind an experience that may help bring to focus the real meaning of this busy holiday time.
Of course, it is the time we celebrate the birth of Jesus, Way-shower to the world. We must always remember that. Within that, also, is the desire to give gifts, even if they are as simple as that of the Little Drummer Boy’s humble performance. But gifts in themselves are not always what we remember about Christmas past – sometimes it’s the feeling of the holiday – the intent. A couple of these were brought to mind in response to the question: What is your favorite holiday/Christmas memory?
First to mind was a time when, as a young child, our family had very little materially. My father had been struggling to recover from a broken back injury that had left him in the hospital for nearly a year. His recovery was slow and recouping income to the family was slower. So how do you tell three children under five years of age there is no Christmas this year?
Somewhere in storage is an old black and white photograph of a tumbleweed, taken from the dusty desert around Phoenix where we then lived. It was sprayed with white flock material, the kind we used to also spray on window panes and write our fingers through, pretending it was real snow. Strewn over the brambly shrub were old-fashioned icicles, slivers of shiny silver that captured the light to imitate the ice-imposter in a hot desert community. Perhaps a few other ornaments, but no strings of white or colored lights. Santa saw fit that year to work through the landlord to provide my sister and I with plastic dolls that were half as tall as we were; my brother was young enough to be happy with the wrapping paper. Those dolls no doubt provided many happy hours of play. Then, as struggling families always seem to be able to do, a festive meal was prepared from the cobwebs in the corners and we were all grateful to be alive. No one noticed if the gravy seemed watered down or how the single chicken seemed to feed so many.
The second memory was when I was older, late teens. Financial troubles in waiting on the proceeds from the sale of our home meant there was no cash at Christmas. Reaching beyond the commercialism, however, we gathered around the kitchen table with a stack of magazines and scissors and proceeded to cut out pictures of what we would like to give each other had money been no object. What would you give your loved ones if money was no object? Can you find a picture of it? Imagine if money were no object and you could give each other whatever you wanted. What a wonderful feeling! Though I don’t remember the pictures now, the same way most gifts of Christmas past fade from prominence, what meant the most was being safe and being together. We knew better times would come eventually.
We don’t need a lot of fancy packages and big parties to really get the focus on Christmas. If a baby can be born and cradled in an animal’s feeding trough and from that humble beginning provide salvation for the world, how much more grateful should we be to have friends and family nearby, presents or not, to have the physical capacity to think and the feeling ability to appreciate and the spiritual development to wrap up the idea of Love? Can we also then reach beyond the commercialism and rush-and-grab frenzy this season to remember what it really is all about?
So this year, as the shiny paper and pearly bows are flying on Christmas morn’, think about your own Tumbleweed Christmas. If your family or friends don’t know what a tumbleweed is, it’s the perfect opportunity to help them learn that, just because something appears scraggly and useless, there can be a great deal of love contained in those brittle, spindly branches, a memory that once made them green and growing with life.
(Note: This article was also published at Freshare.net in 2007, http://freshare.net/article/a_tumbleweed_christmas/#.VnGnFzbUjDA;
and in Senior Living Newspaper in December, 2009, and in Yahoo Voices in their now discontinued community pages)