Lifestyle

Giving to those in need is one of our greatest gifts this season

Although I grieve just a bit when the long, dry days of summer become dark, damp and windy, I rather like these days because I am hopelessly nostalgic about the Christmas season. I pull the couch close to the wood stove. I pen Christmas cards at a leisurely pace. I heat cider and simmer a cheesecloth bag filled with mulling spices as much for the fragrance as for the flavor. And I listen to my Bing Crosby so I can hear him sing, “White Christmas” for the millionth time. I even join in — even though my children groan and make me promise I will not sing in the presence of their friends.

My nostalgia blooms to motherly proportions when my husband brings down the Christmas boxes from the attic.

Maybe it is the photos of our children from previous Christmas celebrations, so cherub-like I can still imagine the feel of their tiny, chubby arms if I concentrate hard enough. Perhaps it is the Christmas books for children that I routinely set out on the coffee table so the kids can reminisce in their own ways. There was a day when they were small enough to sit upon my lap and it was not that long ago.

Perhaps it is all those homemade ornaments that I faithfully hang upon our tree.

As sight-prompted as I am at Christmas time, I am even more attuned to the smells of the season. Freshly ground nutmeg, cinnamon sticks, candied ginger and a baking turkey draw me in as nothing else. In spite of my weight watching I pull out the cookie cutters and the old recipes, drawing infinite pleasure in planning and writing lists before the baking. I purchase fresh, seasonal ingredients — because my mom always did — and almost like magic my nostrils fill with aromatic memories. Like that amazing smell of roasting Spanish peanuts that comes from peanut brittle-making. Like maraschino cherries baking inside cookie dough. Like baking gingerbread men and the subtle scent of cream stirred into a chocolate fudge mixture.

Instinctively I think of home and simplicity, and I am the first to admit that there are two factors that play mightily into this personal response to Christmas. I enjoyed a happy childhood, so Christmas conjures feelings of excitement and joy. I credit my mom most for this gift, as she was invariably the one waking my brother and me up so we could open the gifts she had carefully chosen for us.

The second factor is the era that formed my holiday perceptions. They were simpler times.

I realized this fact on Wednesday when I opened an envelope to discover a credit offer with a $10,000 line of credit, a car key taped to a pre-qualified notice, and a refund check of $21,000 — just waiting to be cashed. I know the President wants us to return to normal and head to the malls. Our recessionary economy needs a boost of consumerism. But this type of advertisement and its timing defies all that my faith tells me about Christmas and celebration, contentment and family harmony.

In fact, a passage I have been contemplating this week, found in the book of Isaiah, encourages the very opposite response from us. We are not to believe that if we buy, buy, buy we will feel better. We are urged, in fact, to move our focus away from ourselves and onto the hungry and the needy, giving a piece of ourselves away for their benefit. This means making more plans and inserting them into an already busy schedule. Increasing the giving budget to benefit someone you may or may not know. Giving with a selfless attitude, asking for no reward but knowing you will feel like a million dollars when you do.

And as Scripture promises, the Lord will guide us without ceasing, satisfy our desires with good things, and make us strong, in return.

Are you aware of the fact that there will be elderly members of our nursing home communities who will go without gifts or family visitors this Christmas? Not only that, but they will want for the most simple of items like socks, underwear, toothpaste, wash cloths, and boxes of tissue. They will look at the decorated trees, privately reminisce about their mothers baking and reading to them, and face the brutal reality of remaining unattended this holiday season by anyone other than caring staff members who do their best with so little.

Seems to me the path to contentment this Christmas is laid out before us.

Joan Bay Klope is a freelance writer and former editor of Christian books. Contact her at jbklope@hotmail.com.

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