I’ve always wondered what it is about the holidays that make most people much more friendly and happy. It could be a number of things from the holiday parties, the gift exchanges or maybe just visiting with family and friends. People all over the world seem to have a more upbeat spirit during the season. But for some people, the holidays are a time of confusion and depression. Children specifically. There are millions of children all across our nation that do not experience the joy of Christmas the way most of us would. They don’t wake up to presents left from Santa, they don’t have family members gathering to cook Christmas dinner, they might not have anyone read to them the true story of Christmas. Those children go through the holiday season as if it were just another day of the year. They feel confused at school, upset when they get home and silently wish the days away.
Growing up, Christmas was such an amazing time in our lives. Myself and my two younger brothers somehow got along so much better during the holiday season. I’m pretty sure it was the constant threat of no gifts from Santa, but whatever it was, it worked. Everyone was excited to begin our holiday family traditions. We would decorate our Christmas tree, bake cookies, write letters to Santa and just enjoy one another. We would also make our Christmas wish list. If you’re my age, you probably remember those awesome toy catalogs you would get from stores all over. We would all sit around this huge catalog and make our wish lists. Although exaggerated and probably a bit greedy, somehow my parents always made it happen. And it wasn’t because we were well off, actually quite the opposite.
My parents were your average people raising three young kids. My mom stayed home with us for the earlier years of our lives and my dad worked in law enforcement. If you know anything about law enforcement, those men and women are over worked and under paid. So around the holidays, my dad would always pick up extra shifts working odd and end jobs to make extra money. He always did this to make sure all of us had exactly what we wanted under our tree. Looking back, I still don’t know how they pulled off some of the stuff they did. We never even knew that he struggled to make ends meet around the holidays. All because he wanted us to be happy as kids. Selfless is the first word that comes to mind when I think of how my parents raised us. But we were also raised to be respectful. We respected the fact that our parents worked so hard to make Christmas happen and we were thankful.
I remember the first year my parents were ever able to help another family at Christmas. I was about 10 years old and my mom and dad worked with my aunt and uncle and picked a family in our community to buy Christmas for. A single mom who worked a few jobs here and there and had 3 kids at home. The youngest was a girl, same age as I was. I remember being so excited to shop for this little girl because my mom had explained to me that we would be her “Santa” like my mom and dad were our “Santa”. So the gifts piled up and we spent hours wrapping them with beautiful ribbons and paper. When the time came to drop them off, i was shocked. We didn’t pull up to a drive way leading to a house. We pulled off the side of a dirt road to a path that led to what looked like a shack. A single wide trailer that didn’t look safe for living. The siding brown and cracked, windows broken and covered with cloth, the front porch hardly standing. Inside the floors were falling through, Dirt covered the floors still visible and not a single working appliance. This family had nothing. No presents to be seen 5 days before Christmas, no tree and no stockings. The mother was so grateful for our gifts and expressed how excited her children would be to finally get a Christmas celebration. Their first Christmas with gifts? Remember, the youngest was 5. She had been 5 years without a Christmas. The older siblings even longer. Let that sink in for a minute.
Not all children are as fortunate as myself and my brothers were growing up and that Christmas we were able to bring joy to kids that had nothing. My parents made it clear to us that children all over the world are without on christmas for various reasons. Children raised by single parents working multiple jobs just to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads. When the holidays roll around, there isn’t extra money to be spent. They wake up on Christmas morning to nothing. The year we were able to help others, my parents taught us that Christmas meant more than receiving gifts, it meant giving back to those who need help. A selfless act of love.
Another thing I remember from my childhood was being so excited to go back to school to show my friends all my new things and ask them what they got for Christmas. We would laugh and share stories about how we all caught our dads dressing up as Santa to try and make us believe just a little more. Then, you notice them. The children who were without. Those children sit silently in their desks those first few days back and pray no one asks them about their Christmas. They pray no one notices them not wearing any new clothes or bringing in new toys to school. They pray they don’t have to open up about how they received nothing for Christmas.
Teachers, I pray for you this holiday season as you welcome your students back. I can’t imagine how heartbreaking it is to watch a student sit silently and struggle watching others discuss their Christmas traditions while they have none. I know you want to do everything you can to help those students and you wish you could do more.
Children don’t understand why things are the way they are. They don’t understand why their parents have to work 3 jobs while their friends parents work one and spend the weekends at home with them playing baseball in the backyard. They don’t understand why Santa doesn’t bring them the toys on their wishlist like every other child in their classroom. No child should go through this season and be without Christmas.
There are so many ways we can help this season. While out doing your shopping, grab an extra toy and drop it off at at toys for tots location. Your 3 year old won’t miss out on the one toy you donated from their Christmas pile. Reach out to your church and ask if there are members who need help with their Christmas dinner. Ask around and I can assure you, we all can help. We all know someone who needs a little help this season. After all, it’s the season of giving right? Volunteer at your local soup kitchen, pass out copies of the Christmas story- and I don’t mean the Mickey Mouse Version. There are so many things we can do that involve nothing but giving a little bit of our time up to help others.
If for some reason you can’t give, there are still things you can do. Make sure your children aren’t boasting about their massive piles of toys on social media. And when you send them back to school, make sure they aren’t picking fun at the kids who didn’t get anything at Christmas. Sure, your children are excited and happy. And they are thankful and want to share with the world. But it’s so hard to watch another child’s face fill with tears when they have to watch all their friends enjoy the gifts they never get. So just talk with them and explain to them that they are blessed and that some kids are not. Your kids might even feel like they want to take something to school and give to another friend who didn’t get anything. If this happens, pat yourself on the back because you are doing a stand up job as a parent.
So while we all continue the joyful hustle and bustle of the holidays, please remember those that are less fortunate than yourselves. If we all pitched in to help in even the simplest of ways, Christmas can be a brighter time in every child’s life.