To say that Christmas was a huge deal in our house would be a gross understatement. It was typical 80s/90s holiday cheesiness in all its glory. Foil streamers covering the ceilings from corner to corner, can ‘snow’ sprayed in various shapes that were supposed to mimic a theme, but that never quite made it, on every window and the tinsel – lordy my mother kept those factories in business. Out poor Christmas tree, which was real and therefore had little resemblance to a typical tree shape as it was, ended up being forced to bear the weight of a lifetime collection of ornaments in various shapes, sizes and states (some were missing pieces, paint etc) and was then topped off with so much shiny, silver tinsel you could barely make out any of their shapes, let alone see their designs.
Above all else, the memories of the huge, chaotic family gatherings at my grandmother’s house and the never ending visiting that followed – those were the foundation of my tacky Christmases as a child. It was so loud that hearing your own thoughts was somewhat a novelty and having a conversation at a normal volume was just impossible. It was always loud, hectic, and downright crazy, but it was our family and it was expected.
Oddly enough, I have carried on very few of the traditions my family has held dear, but have instead taken hold of my own. It took time, however, to form my holiday traditions. I moved out on my own 10 years ago, but not to live on my own, instead I merged lifestyles with a man who is now my fiance. It was fun to finally be free of the expectations that were forced upon you around the holidays. To finally be able to see all of the things offered and available, choosing to try new things, attend new events and even purchase an artificial Christmas tree that looked like a tree.
Over the years we have weeded through various things that we’ve tried and loved, keeping those on the agenda for the following year, and those we’ve tried and hated, nixing them from the list altogether. We now decorate for the holidays in a more modern, sleek design – no tinsel has ever touched our tree! We sit curled up watching Christmas movies with steaming mugs of hot chocolate (or coffee), enjoying laughs and conversation at a much more sensible volume and enjoy such a large variety of festivities offered around the city.
The part I love the most, however, isn’t the decorating, tree lighting’s, dinners or parties – it’s the community of paying it forward that we have uncovered. Neither of us grew up with the proverbial silver spoon and loved the idea of lending a hand whenever we could. The dilemma? We had no idea where to start, other than the food bank and VOCM Happy Tree. Enter Facebook. Whatever nonsense may come with Facebook, it is an amazing tool for non-profit organizations to get their voices heard.
We have come across some incredible groups of people that have taken an over commercialized holiday and turned it into a true season of giving. There is, of course, our local community food sharing association and VOCM Happy Tree – both of whom have helped and continue to help hundreds of people every season, to be able to enjoy their holiday with a little less stress. There is also out local Single Parent Association of Newfoundland who graciously accept toys to distribute to qualifying families and who also accept individual holiday sponsors for families who are in dire financial hardship; The St. John’s Shoebox Project is an incredible non-profit who accept shoe boxes (or similar sized decorative boxes) filled with items (ie. shampoo/conditioner, toothbrush/paste, nail polish, scarf, gift card etc) for women who are in shelters and various outreach programs to let them know someone still truly cares for them; our local power/hydro company has an annual collections of winter clothing items for those in need; Operation Christmas Child collects shoe boxes filled with necessities and little treats for children who otherwise live in poverty all over the world.
Although, over the years, we have grown to include all of these organizations on our annual shopping list, our personal favorite is still playing Secret Santa. Each year we choose someone we know to target with little treats. We have done the 12 days of Christmas for our neighbor who was living alone, away from her family for the first time as well as a newly married couple where one spouse was from another country and celebrating their first Christmas together and in this country. They weren’t expensive gifts, but rather small, personal treats. Favorite chocolates, special tea from home, favorite wine or snacks, movie night in etc. There there is, “You’ve been Elfed!!” Just a one-time drop of a small present in which is accompanied by a short poem which reads, “The Christmas Elf has come to town, to leave some goodies, I see you’ve found. We hope you would like to spread more good cheer, by continuing this greeting until Christmas is here!!” Its premise is a little obvious, but is so much fun. We have only tried this one twice, but it carried on in a nice little domino effect.
The feeling you get from giving – regardless of what you give – is truly twice as good as receiving anything in return. The gratitude is literally heart-warming, but what eats at my heart at the same time, is the utter surprise on the faces of the recipients. It’s as if they weren’t expecting it. But thankfully the community is growing and the concept of ‘paying it forward’ is becoming contagious. My annual Christmas wish is that it continues to so do because the number of people who need help will always outnumber those who are offering it. And it isn’t always about those who are down on their luck; it’s about doing something nice for someone – whether you know them or not. We all love kindness; we thrive on it.