I am not a young man but neither am I an old one. I still remember most things from my childhood, from the good to the 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 had very little 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 to provide for us all. His devotion is a part of me today, for which I will forever be grateful to him.
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 naÃ¯ve 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, and served them 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 each year 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 whatever 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 lies 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 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, the elderly, or delivering presents to the Ronald McDonald House can lift your heart and define your character as a parent. Children will see this generosity and grow to be conscientious human beings 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 whose children are dressed in rags and are 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 will 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 in kindness and selflessness. I learned this 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.