I grew up in a home where thinking about the needs of others was part of everyday life. Coming home from school and seeing my mom in the kitchen making cookies or bread was a common sight. Almost always the question was, "Are these for us?" Always a portion to be shared.
One of the most meaningful things about the holiday season were the times we would do the "Twelve Days of Christmas" to an individual or family that was lonely and in need. Mom, of course, was the orchestrator. A little rhyming jingle would be attached to the simple gift. A plate of cookies, a candle, some lotion, and I even think there was a bottle of aspirin a couple of years. (Headache season!)
My siblings and I would bundle up and head out into the black night, excited beyond words, to leave our gift at the doorstep, ring the doorbell, run for all we were worth, and then quickly find a place to hide. The kids who weren't doing the running, hiding behind the bushes, would get to see the happy, astonished looks on the recipient's face. Shouts of "Thank you, Christmas Fairy!" were heard. Touched and with warm and happy hearts, we silently walked home, tears sometimes falling down our cheeks. Those were the happiest times.
When I had been married about two years, my husband and I surprisingly found ourselves on the receiving end. Two years ago, I wrote about our experience:
December 13, 2008
17 years ago today
It was getting pretty late and Christmas was getting closer. Little Gary was about 9 months old and was sick. He and I were alone, which was not an uncommon thing, as Keith worked the swing shift and was gone during the day with school and all. I was curled up on the couch watching some Christmas special or something. I was feeling pretty low. Loneliness and "the no money blues" were hanging over me. We barely pulled off getting the Christmas tree. Gary being sick wasn't helping.
I was suddenly startled by hearing someone pounding on the door. It scared me and I didn't know if I should answer it or not. I called out, "Who is it?" No answer. I waited a bit and said a quick prayer in my heart and then hesitantly opened the door a crack. I couldn't see anyone and was about to close it, when out of the corner of my eye, I saw a huge, black garbage bag sitting off to the side. What was that doing there? I dragged it inside and felt confusion on what this was all about. The bag was filled with lots of wrapped presents and I initially thought that someone had got the wrong house. Then I saw the envelope with our name on it. The warm tears were starting to build up as I pulled out the packages and opened the card.
We were to open one gift for the next 12 days and we were wished a merry Christmas. I tried to analyze the handwriting. "Who did such a wonderful thing for us?" I thought. Was it someone in our extended family, someone from church, someone who knew us when we were growing up?
The highlight of the next 12 days were the times we opened up those gifts. We got a set of Christmas dishes, cookie cutters, a Christmas cookbook, a Manheim Steamroller cassette, placemats, and other surprises. It wasn't really about the things, but it was more knowing that someone out there cared and were thinking about us. There certainly were more needy people who probably could be benefited more, but to a young, struggling family like us, it meant the world.
I believe God is aware of the physical, spiritual, and emotional needs His children have. Sometimes He sends "earth angels" to attend to us and to let us know He cares. The memory of that Christmas will always stay tucked in a tender corner of my heart. I hope I've learned the lesson He needed to teach me from it and be one of His angels to anyone who may need to feel His love.
I'll never, ever forget this experience. Since then, Keith and I have made a commitment every Christmas to reach out to those who are often forgotten, overlooked, downtrodden, lonely, elderly, financially strained, or just needing to know someone cares. Because we've been blessed this way, both on the giving and receiving end, we've wanted to share this gift with our children. I know that keeping and honoring this tradition has brought us so much happiness, and has taught us a lesson of giving and service in ways we'll never forget. Children, especially, need to learn this.
Would this be something that could help make your Christmas meaningful? Here are some hints to make this work for your family:
First, you need to think of what you are going to call yourself. You could call it the 12 Days of Christmas, the Christmas Angel, Secret Santa, the Christmas Fairy, Santa's Elf. You need to decide if you'll start your deliveries on December 13 (the twelve days of Christmas) or if it's too difficult to do that every night, you could just do one big drop off. If you are concerned about "getting caught", ask someone who has no connection to be the "hit man". You could even have that person, in "elf voice" call the family and tell them to expect a delivery. (Sometimes we've had to do this when there was no answer at the door.)
Some years, we've just given money or gift certificates and a card. That was what was needed. If you choose to give small gifts, it needn't be a huge production. You can find simple, inexpensive items at the dollar store or grocery store. It's the thought that counts. Here's some ideas:
A basket of oranges, a candy bar, a candle, Christmas placemat or dishtowel, hand lotion, a Christmas CD or movie, a special book, hot cocoa with a mug, sparkling cider, an ornament, cheese ball and crackers, homemade goodies, an inspirational picture of Jesus. Things that will make the spirit bright!
Wrap them all up, and place in a wrapped apple box. Put numbers on the gifts to tell what order they should be opened up. If you choose to go every night, watch out for ice! Find good places to hide! Share the love! Feel the joy!
Be a light to the world.