Gary Horton | Finding Ways to Keep Xmas Meaningful

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“Christmas is over. But it’s coming back again.” So used to say our lovely first son Jonathan, at the end of what used to be our wonderfully magical Christmas days from back when the kids were little. After all the lights, the trees, the wreaths, the presents with all the wrappings and empty boxes strewn about; after the rich meals, cookies and treats, and the trips to Grandma’s… just before tuck-in time: Jon would say, “Christmas is over – but it’s coming back again.”

We’ll never forget those sweet words from such a thoughtful, young boy. Jonathan was (and is) incredible, and he just loved the suspense, the buildup, the magic and the playfulness of Christmas. Carrie loved it, too. And the kids made cookies it seemed nearly every day, and Carrie played Christmas songs on the piano, and I played the Chipmunks’ Christmas album on our turntable (yes, turntable) and we watched old-timey Christmas movies and the whole thing was just a wonderful buildup to a very special day.

We would often make the drive over to Mission Hills, to Chapel of the Cross Lutheran Church for the midnight Christmas Eve service. Picture a bundle of little kids doing High Church with candles and Bach and recitations and prayers, and then, freezing, getting in the car for the drive home to be tucked in, all knowing that the next day there would be the free-for-all, fully commercialized, materialist Christmas.

Each year was one giant, glorious spiritual-materialistic mash-up.

We might have been sending mixed moral messages, as does most of America still, but we loved the tradition, loved the specialness of the whole thing, and loved the buildup and the crescendo of Christmas Day itself.

My mom was still alive then, a fragile 65 or so, and a wonderful typecast of a loving grandmother, full of hugs and warm things to say and a bowl full of chocolate mints over on the corner table.

Grandmas and grandpas and cousins and aunts and uncles filled in the day as the Christmas train rolled from our house to my mom’s and finally to Carrie’s parents. Wow, what exhaustion when bedtime finally came.

Time flies. The kids are gone and we’re empty-nesters. I’m “Oldpa” now. Carrie is “Mimi.” Our kids are inventing new traditions with the grandkids and they’re finding their own way to create and build meaning for the holidays.

Jonathan remains true to his early thoughtful spirit. Every year, Jon works with a national group to raise bail money for poor mothers who can’t make bail from jail for nonviolent crimes, so they too can have holidays with their families.

I think about that a lot. That’s real giving. That’s spiritual, mindful giving. Gifting our coddled loved ones tons of cool stuff is a great “high five” for our families to celebrate tenets of our faith and to cheer the end of a good year. But helping the fully disempowered transcends all that wrapping and ribbon stuff — and I’m so thankful that Jon has developed his sense of social awareness and caring. He’s a real example to me and Carrie and our family at large.

Of course, we love our Christmases past. And I’ll love the good, fun, materialism Christmas this year as we continue the traditions and spoil our grandkids. But nowadays, we’re making room in our hearts and minds for deeper meaning.

Yet, the worldly “beat goes on.” Only seven days of holiday shopping left!

Nordstrom’s ads urge us, “Let’s go gifting!”

Macy’s say, “Believe in the world of giving!”

Target nudges us, “Seven days until Christmas – Deals on top toy brands!”

Oh God in heaven, the merchants of the Earth want us to spend, spend, spend on plastic and electronic stuff – for your Son? Really, is that all there is?

Well, there’s seven high-pressure days until Christmas. You and I have seven days to “shop different.” Seven days to lend a hand to someone reaching up, to lighten someone’s dark day, to assist in communities that need care; seven days to fill spiritual and life-sustaining voids here and throughout the world.

Our hospital seeks community donations for their super-helpful new facility nearing completion.

Our Senior Center always welcomes help of any kind.

College of the Canyons takes donations used directly to pay tuition for kids who can’t afford to pay.

Our local homeless shelter Bridge to Home just got completely shafted by L.A. County retracting our promised Measure H funds – and our shelter now urgently need financial assistance.

Syrian refugee camps need just about everything and you can easily find ways to assist in remediation of this incredible human tragedy.

And nationally, we’ve got everything from the Ronald MacDonald house to Mama’s Bail Out.

We have seven days to “shop different.” To give to others where there’s absolutely nothing in it for us — and maybe everything in it for our recipients. To make a real difference.

Pick where your heart leads you. Pause from the commercial mayhem and ponder: Where is your heart tender for others needing special intervention?

This Christmas, we can all “give different.” When you do, it will make the wrapping-tearing-apart and the over-the-top holiday dinner that much more special, warm, kind, meaningful — and memorable.

Gary Horton’s “Full Speed to Port!” has appeared on Wednesdays in The Signal since 2006.

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