Christmas is all about the kids. It's about them getting to their Nutcracker practices and having their moment of glory performing on stage. It's about them staying up late watching Christmas movies and overdosing on sugar. It's about the kids receiving presents and being so ecstatic about Christmas they can't even sleep on Christmas Eve Eve. But I know that for some children, Christmas is not only about receiving, but about giving.
This year my 9 year-old son had a birthday party just a few days before Christmas Eve. He received one of the best presents a little boy could get: a box of pink, sweet smelling, sticky chewing gum. I was surprised when on Christmas Eve he announced he had presents for the family, and even more surprised to see that in each of his siblings' stockings he had placed a packet of gum. He had nothing left for himself, but the smile on his face showed that giving presents to others left a more satisfying high than sugar.
Several years ago I used to help in our Church's primary class, of which my mom was the president. There was a little girl whose name I can't remember, but whose face is branded on my mind. Her family was very poor, but the Sunday before Christmas Eve, she wanted to give my mom a present. Right after the class, I saw the slender, ash-blond haired girl walk up to my mom with a little package in her hands. The package was wrapped in newspaper, but the contents were more valuable than diamonds. My mom opened the package, and inside
she found a fragrant, fresh roll of bread.
To this day, that piece of bread is the best present my mom has ever received.
Children can feel the spirit of Christmas, even when they don't know what it is they're feeling. They naturally want to act according to the whispering of such spirit. The lessons they learn when they follow that voice are learned forever.
I remember a particular Christmas in my childhood. I don't remember how old I was, even though I couldn't have been older than ten. I also remember that year had been very hard for our family, and there wasn't much money for presents. We were four children in our family, and even though we were all quite young, the three older kids knew it was our parents who left the presents under the tree. Our youngest brother though, the one who's five years younger than I am, still believed in Papa Noel, and talked incessantly about the bicycle he wanted for Christmas.
I don't remember my parents' asking us to understand, or if we ever took a conscious decision about it, but on that Christmas Eve, when the sound of fireworks was deafening the barrio, there were four very happy children looking at one bicycle underneath the tree.
That hot summer night, there was an ecstatic little boy on the apartment building's parking lot as he took turns with his brother and sisters riding the bike of his dreams.
We still talk about that Christmas, my siblings and I, and even though there are many details we don't remember, we can still feel the love for our brother, the happiness at watching his smile that couldn't stretch any wider on his little face.
My parents could never give me a bike, but they gave me love, a family, an education. But still, I never had a bike of my own. Until this morning. When Jeff and I were passing around the presents for our kids, he kept giving me packages of athletic gear. All the time I was thinking that "Santa" must really think I need to work out, until I opened a package that contained a shiny red helmet. Jeff walked to one of the kid's room and came back with the most beautiful bike I've ever seen. For me.
My kids were jumping and cheering and clapping, and I thought of my ten year-old self and told her, "Just wait. Things will be so awesome in the future!"
This evening after dinner with family was over, I rode my brand new bike, in the semidarkness of the winter night, the frigid air burning my face. I felt like a kid again, and Christmas is really all about the children. God's children, no matter how old they are. It's all about one particular Child, who was born in the humblest of circumstances, He, was is the creator and Lord of the creation. Happy Birthday baby Jesus. Thanks for the gift of giving, and receiving, and waiting, and believing.