A different kind of Christmas

Tomorrow night will be Christmas Eve. Depending on whether parents cave in or not, kids may either get a peek at a present before Santa Claus arrives or wait until Christmas morning to strew the living room with drifts of ruined wrapping paper. That much is pretty standard, as was shopping on Black Friday.

According to my sources, the Black Friday tradition began back in 1966 when merchants first opened their doors early on the morning after Thanksgiving. Since then the tradition of early openings featuring door-buster sales has ripened to include Freddie’s, Penney’s, Seattle Prime Outlets, Kohl’s, Best Buy, Target and most other major North County retailers.

The annual shopping orgy kicked off as early as midnight with rabid shoppers pressing at doors as though they were the only exits in burning buildings. Once inside, shoppers raced to snatch up presents, each a fullback running a route toward displays of must-have iPhones or Tickle me Elmos. For retailers and shoppers alike, Black Friday was a day of frazzled nerves and parking lot dings.

Aside from one frost-bitten ringer shivering a trill from his bell outside WalMart, Salvation Army bell-ringers spent the Big Chill inside. I slipped that hardy soul a chemical hand warmer and chatted a bit. He said the amount of giving was good enough that his bucket, then bulging with greenbacks, had to be emptied now and then by a supervisor. Another bell-ringer said that at $9 per hour, the work was okay because the parade of shoppers kept him entertained.

Though all that was pretty much the same as last year, this Christmas is set against a background of unemployment or under-employment, homelessness and families split by deployments that keep Dad or Mom far away for the holidays — or forever. Even during Black Friday the mood was a bit somber. For some, it is a different kind of Christmas.

Uncertainty causes nut-cases to lash out with bizarre displays of ignorant frustration. Take Mayor Russell Wiseman of Arlington, Tennessee, for example. Wiseman, who labeled President Obama a Muslim, charged that Obama deliberately scheduled his Report to the Nation to block a Christian message embedded in A Charlie Brown Christmas. Peace on Earth, Mayor Wiseman.

On the up-side, the pendulum has swung back from the politically correct “Holiday Season” to the re-appearance of the word, Christmas, on greeting cards and ads. Which is as it should be because you can’t build a society by subtracting. Just so, Jews and Muslims are welcome to observe Hanukkah, or Al-Hijira and Ashura by their right names. We wouldn’t dream of censoring our Black population’s celebration of Kwanzaa, though like Black Friday, it dates back only to 1966.

In this season of giving, a focus on store-bought gifts might miss real needs. Everyone needs food, housing and the loving company of friends and family. We need strength and substance to offer to others in need. And we need a sense of purpose and meaningful work that provides “enough.” Add chances to learn, create and contribute.

We need a life free of destructive habits and those joy-stealers, worry, stress and fear. What a lovely Christmas gift it would be to lessen another’s worry, stress or fear. And imagine how the world would change if that were everyone’s Christmas mission. The song, Joy to the World, would resonate with purpose.

I suppose a 50-inch LCD TV with surround-sound would be nice to get, too. Then I wouldn’t have to hang out in Costco’s aisles admiring the sweep and clarity of their dazzling images while nibbling freebies. A Kindle electronic book-reader might be fun, though I know I’d miss the feel of real pages. There are so many things I don’t have that advertisers tell me I need. Three questions haunt me when gifts are opened: Are my wants the same as my needs? Would getting the things I want help to dispel worry, stress or fear? Would they bring joy to my life?

Christmas can be a Back-to-Basics celebration and given the current level of unemployment and uncertainty, it will be in many homes. What can Mom and Dad do if they are out of work and there’s too much month left at the end of the money? What can friends do for each other when short of cash? There is still the gift of self to offer. The most welcome gift for some people is one’s time and company or a strong pair of hands for tasks another can’t handle.

A few hours of respite for an overstressed single mom. A home-made coupon book for a handicapped neighbor with pull-outs for shrub trimming, gutter cleaning, leaf-raking and such. Another coupon book for the kids that lets them claim an afternoon at Kayak Point Park, a Saturday at the Jetty, an AquaSox game, a float down the Stilly in inner-tubes, a hike up Mt. Pilchuck. If gifts can be measured by loving care, personalized coupon books top any list.

Christmas doesn’t have to be a budget-buster if one figures love and time into the equation. I know a shut-in who suffers from physical isolation and an immigrant burdened by social isolation. There’s always the plight of single parents who get edgy from never getting caught up though they’re constantly on the run. Sitting with their kids for a few hours helps to dispel those villains, worry, stress and fear.

As Christmas approaches, it is heartening to see people passing around little gifts of themselves—more time with the children, telephoning far-flung old friends, waving blocked drivers into their traffic lane, helping overburdened travelers with luggage, setting things right when a clerk returns too much change and vowing each morning to make someone’s day better.

A joyful Christmas to all,

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