To be thankful at Christmas...

So many of the people I know have been used to the hollow Christmas tradition of exchanging trinkets, spending money on often ridiculous items, feeling the need to spend on friends and relatives even if they had no idea what kind of gift to buy the people on their shopping list. It used to bother me so much I stopped buying Christmas presents more than ten years ago. How many more ties, bric-a-brac and coffee mugs could I possibly serve up under the tree in order to see them the next year being sold at a yard sale to other people looking for meaningless gifts to give friends and relations. And those were just the low cost, token gifts. For so long we'd all gotten used to this compulsion to spend blindly in order to satisfy a requirement of the season... don't let someone else spend more money on your gift than you spend on theirs or you'll have egg on your face come Christmas morning.

Well, now with so many working people in this country struggling just to make ends meet, unable to pay their bills or put gas in their cars, some seem to be rediscovering real meaning and value in the sparkle of this season.

Perhaps economic hard times have struck an important blow against the crass commercialism that has dominated the holiday season over the past few decades.

Maybe it is possible that as more and more people have less and less they will find they have more than they realized.

Maybe this Christmas, instead of worrying about getting Uncle Ted another tie he'll never wear, we could turn our attention to those in need for whom we could give something of real substance and meaning. With so many people in desperate need these days, perhaps we can find something we can deliver, whether it is helping them find a way to stay warm this winter or even just inviting them to share our Christmas dinner. We all have it within us to be a light in the darkness that sweeps in over our brothers and sisters this season. We know from experience here at E2 that even those who seem to have plenty may be hurting and in need. Reach out and give of yourself, it means more than all those ridiculous lines at the supersonic ultramax stores that wait to drain our pockets because they count on us feeling the only way we can give this season is by buying the latest fad toys, overpriced trinkets and the rest of the junk no one really needs.

And then maybe we can just keep doing it all year long.

I try to keep a low profile where I work, which is part of the reason I prefer to work third shift at the shelter for troubled teen girls I'm employed by. They like to call us the ghosts of the night, we come in and relieve the evening crew and leave when the teaching staff comes in the morning. This past Thursday they had a Christmas party, following two weeks of low key festivities including a Secret Santa deal where we were supposed to find creative ways to bring a little holiday cheer to each other. I managed to develop a little haunting along the lines of A Christmas Carol where I wrote little stories of how the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future had come to haunt the facility's treatment coordinator. The underlying joke was that this woman is anything but a Scrooge, and she is often referred to as the fairy godmother of our operation.

Much to my surprise, at the Christmas party, this woman, who (strangely enough) has a "Christine" name, insisted that the director of our facility read my final installation of the Christmas ghost stories in front of everyone, including a representative from our parent organization. As it was a spur of the moment thing I spent almost no time writing, thinking it just a goofy fun, I never expected it to get so much attention. I sat in silence as it was read, and for some reason it brought people to tears, and later people just started hugging me for no apparent reason. Since I doubt myself on a very regular basis, I had no idea what to make of it, so I will post a shortened version of it, taking out names and eliminating what were basically inside jokes. I figure if it brought that reaction to those I work with, maybe it has some value... so here it is...

I see a headstone in the graveyard
It is overgrown and untended
I take you there now to look upon it
And you say, "Who is this poor soul?"
And I tell you,
"I dunno, some dude I never met.
He was really mean to people.
All he cared about was his money,
But what good is his money now?"

And you say, "So, what is the point of taking me here?"
I smile and say, "Just to show you what can happen
When instead of giving what you can to help and guide others
You frown and curse people for trying to take what you think is yours,
For we are all here to help each other, not to live selfishly unto ourselves."

Now we fly over the broken city
Torn apart by anger, hatred and war.
We watch as starving women and children gather,
Hoping for perhaps a warm bowl of soup or some roasted chestnuts,
But there are none, only tired looking soldiers with guns leaning wearily against
Collapsing brick walls and dead trees.

"Why?" you ask as we see these things.
"Why must it be this way? Why can we not love one another?
Why can we not look out for each other and embrace each other as brothers and sisters?"
I nod, my ghostly face tired and careworn.
"Let me take you to a different future."

We fly down into a snow--covered valley where many young women are standing
They each hold a candle, and each is bundled up tight against the cold.
We settle in beside them and you smile at the warmth the generate.
"These people look familiar to me," you say.
You try to study their faces, but they are wrapped tightly in warm winter hats and scarves.
Their coats are buttoned up tightly, many with hoods drawn tightly around their faces.
They are all singing with hope in their voices,
Alive with faith in themselves, charity towards others, and deep compassion,
For they have seen the future we have seen and they have turned away from it.

"It is so cold," you say. "Can we not go inside to get warm?"
You point to a big log cabin, a lodge in the valley surrounded by tall pines.
"I suppose, but I'm a ghost, so the cold really isn't a problem for me."
"But for them," you say with concern for the young women who are shivering despite their warm clothes.

Finally, breaking away, you tell the singing women,
"Come with me, it must be warmer in that great lodge.
I can see smoke rising from the chimney. They must have a nice fire going."
They nod and follow you into the lodge.
There is a roaring fire there, with hot food and drink.
There are places to sit, talk and find companionship and love.
There are warm beds for all and more than enough for the needs of everyone.

"What is this place?" you ask me.
"It is exactly what you believe it to be," I reply most cryptically.
The young women take off their hats, scarves and coats
They stand by the fire and warm themselves and then begin to sing again.
"I DO recognize these women!" you say as they reveal their faces.
"I know her... I remember her..."
Each face looks familiar to you.
"All these girls were at the shelter at one time!"

You hardly notice as I slowly vanish into the mists of time.
You walk around and talk to the women and they smile.
"Thank you for leading us to this warm and happy place," they tell you in their strange, singing fashion.
Their eyes are bright and their smiles wide.

Peace be with you
This season and always
May the joy of the season carry you through the year.

Merry Christmas to All and to All a Good Night!