The true meaning of Christmas

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Whether you and your family focus on the religious or the secular aspects of Christmas, it’s renowned as a chance to spend time with your loved ones.

With the holiday at our doorstep, just like during Thanksgiving, it’s a great opportunity to celebrate and appreciate what we’re grateful for — time with family, the generosity of our loved ones and the memories we create each year.

About 10 years ago, one group of friends from Castaic wanted to celebrate together and help those less fortunate, so they created Greetings with Gratitude, which has a Facebook group and and collects for several months ahead of the holiday.

“We start collecting donations of money, warm clothing, toiletries, toys and we spend our Christmas morning going down to Skid Row to hand those out to those less fortunate,” said Serena S.

“(The spirit of giving) was in our family through our grandfather,” said Neal Roemer, one of the organizing volunteers. “Our first year we did it was 2008. We went down and made sandwiches and passed those out…. It’s kind of expanded to what it is today, as far as figuring out what they need the most.”

After spending about two hours handing out backpacks filled with toiletries they’ve collected for the last few months, the group gathers at Casa La Golondrina on Olvera Street. The group started with a few friends and family members, and now numbers several dozen people. (For more information, visit Facebook.com/greetingswithgratitude.)

We also asked members of the community about their favorite memories were surrounding Christmas day:

 

Toni S.

Just like in the famous holiday movie “A Christmas Story,” we order Chinese food for takeout on Christmas eve as a family. Then everyone is allowed to open one gift; then we all go together to  look at the lights.

 

Caleb L.

So my family does pajamas on Christmas eve.

We get to open “one present each,” but the ones we’re handed by my mom are always matching sweatpants. And then surprise, surprise every year, this total coincidence of us “all choosing sweatpants” leads to a family picture.

Then Christmas Day, we wake up at 8 a.m. (my Dad has already been up for an hour making breakfast), and we sit down and open “sock gifts,” which are usually socks, gum, $5 gift cards, and whatever crazy thing my mom found for $3 on Amazon that no one has ever, in their lives, asked for — ever.

Last year, we got a container of TUMS that we could put on a keychain.

Then we eat breakfast, do the dishes (when I was a kid, this part would KILL me) and then we’d get to the “big stuff.”

We do the same order every year, no joke — but it’s awesome.

 

Brendie H.

This is my favorite Christmas tradition, hands down.

It’s absolutely the highlight of the entire holiday season. I didn’t grow up with any Christmas traditions, so creating our own has been exciting and rewarding.

My boys are currently 5, 3 and 2 , respectively, so presents and “holiday magic” are what they love (as they should).

We do work hard to downplay “stuff” and emphasize the gift of family time, the birth of our Savior and opportunities to serve others. But gifts, plastic treasures and tearing wrapping paper is their focus. We have to deliberately slow them down and purposefully interject wisdom and truth into their little minds — which is why we do “Christmas letters from Dad” on Christmas morning.

My husband writes a letter to each of his sons detailing ways he’s proud of them and shares how he prays for them. It’s in his handwriting, and we keep each letter in a binder with the holiday decorations.

Truthfully, they don’t care about these letters right now.  But when they are grown and we are gone… I have a feeling they will love these letters more than any toy they received decades earlier. Even with the lights, presents and distractions, they straighten up and listen when it’s their turn. (Well maybe not the 2-year-old, yet, but he’s getting there.)

I wanted the letters handwritten because so much is typed and impersonal these days. A handwritten letter is simply more precious than an email.  

Watching their little eyes beam as they hear their father speak about them is truly magical. My husband shares specific memories, challenges and areas he’s observed in their life. It’s truly one of the sweetest moments of the year.

Let’s be honest — it’s really a gift for me from my husband at this point. He admits it’s not something that comes natural, but he enjoys reading the letters Christmas morning.

So if you’re looking for a holiday tradition, consider a Christmas letter!

(There’s a letter template available for moms and dads at BrendieHeter.com.)

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