Thursday, December 9, 2010

Christmas in a Material World

S. Paul Forrest

I am not a young man but neither am I an old one.  I still remember most things from my childhood including the good and bad, and even though I would like to take back some of my mistakes, most things remain in my heart with a silver glow.  One of the most meaningful of these memories involved a Christmas season when at the age of three, I received a gift made from the skilled hands of my father which will always stand in my heart as the definitive meaning of this Holiday Season.

Growing up in the back woods of Maine, my family hadn’t much money.  We lived off the land and made our home in a very small building which some today might call a shack.  My parents worked hard, sometimes too hard, to raise their children in a world without the trappings of materialism and the inherent control of a society that had lost its way.  To this end, they struggled to make ends meet and never stopped trying to fulfill their dream.

My parents always worked hard and were dedicated to their roles as providers.  My father worked endlessly trying to provide wood for the fire, meat from the small animals we raised, milk from a goat, water from a pump well and vegetables from the garden.  Most of my memories of this man involve his endless devotion to work in providing for us all.  His devotion is a part of me today which I will forever be grateful to him for.

During one particular Christmas season, we were well without the trappings of money.  So much so, food was a bit sparse.  My parents, as I learned much later in life, took turns not eating meals so as to provide for us children.  Even as a naïve child who had never known a life of excess, I could feel that things were not quite right.  Christmas was on the way and when I mentioned what I wanted from Santa, the mood shifted toward the dark.  It was quite a few years later before I appreciated what was about to happen.

On Christmas morning, my mother made a big breakfast of our chickens’ eggs and toast from homemade bread with a smile and the love she always had for us all.  When it came time to open presents, after the homemade cloths were unwrapped, I opened my main present…a toy car made of wood.

Now, most may be thinking that this couldn’t possibly have been my main present but it was a wonderful toy.  The wheels were rounded from the branches of a birch tree and attached to the body with 8 penny nails.  The Chassis was sanded and molded with the skill of a fine carpenter my father would soon become.  It was a gift that Santa’s elves themselves would have been envious of.  In fact, at the time, with the snow piling up outside and the fire roaring in the stove, I thought Santa himself had dropped it by our humble abode.

Every year, my children ask me what I want and every year I tell them to make me something from their hearts.  They each work to create a gift for me and I open them with the smile and appreciation of a father that sees the season for what it is; a time for loving each other and showing that love with the expressions of one’s heart instead of one’s wallet.

In today’s world of excess and greed, Christmas seems to have lost its meaning.  I often wonder what ever happened to the real meaning of Christmas.  I suppose it has been lost in the plasticity of modern luxury and the race for purpose through expenditure but it still lay within me as a fond memory and every Christmas I try to pass this on to my children.

During this season, giving to those less fortunate and endearing your children to the act of said kindness is the gift that keeps on giving.  A trip to the homeless shelter to help serve food, helping to deliver meals to the poor elderly or delivering presents to the Ronald McDonald House can lift one’s heart and define your character.  As a parent, a child will see this generosity and grow to be a conscientious human being who will in turn, teach their children the same devotion to our human race.

Sometimes during this season, I see the homeless and the struggling with nothing to give and everything to need.  In the shelters, there are families where the children are dressed in rags and often dirty.  Seeing these people, especially the children, brings me such deep sadness for if I could, I would give them everything of mine.  The children are not at fault.  The parents may be addicts, alcoholics, or just plain unlucky but if I can bring the Spirit of Christmas to some of these people in their unfortunate situation, I have done something great.

Christmas is a season of giving, of caring and of love.  Although it has become largely commercial in nature, it is a season to act with kindness and selflessness.  I learned this powerful lesson from a simple wooden car.  My parents tried hard to teach us children the values of family, hard work and love without monetary reward.  In retrospect, while considering the struggles my parents undertook to raise a family without the trappings of a material world, I have come to the conclusion that they were quite successful in their endeavor.

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