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The Real Meaning of the Holidays

Ahh, the holidays. This is quite simply my favorite time of year. I’ve never understood how people could get depressed during the holidays. What with Christmas carols filling the air, the hubbub of shoppers at the mall, the menorahs, Christmas trees and colorful lights strung up on houses and streetlights, I can’t help but feel that this is a magical time of the year. No matter how tough things have been in my life, the holidays have always managed to put a spring back into my step.

When I was a kid, it seemed I spent the whole year looking forward to December. I could barely wait for my favorite holiday specials to air on television: A Charlie Brown Christmas, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Little Drummer Boy, etc. Even that one Christmas when my dad got laid off and we couldn’t afford a Christmas tree, let alone presents, I still went to bed each night in the month of December, happy and eager to face another day of hot cocoas and candy canes.

Now that I’m a husband and father of two kids, my perspective has changed. The holidays are no longer just about me anymore. Instead, I find myself focusing on making the holidays special for my family, passing on to them that same holiday magic that I grew up with. In other words, my holiday focus has shifted from taking to giving.

Maybe that’s why I had to stop today as I walked with my family through the Santa Monica Third Street Promenade for some last minute shopping. Right there in the midst of all those happy holiday shoppers toting stuffed paper shopping bags and Starbucks lattes stood a scruffy man begging for money. He had spread a thin sheet at his feet on the sidewalk and on it, a little boy of maybe 9 years old lay hugging a teddy bear. The man held a sign that said “Please help me and my son get a place to sleep tonight”. The man and boy were both subdued. The man looked straight ahead without really seeing. The boy looked only at his teddy bear which had a bright red ribbon tied around its neck. A passerby handed a bill to the man and he took it almost absent-mindedly.

I was just on my way to one of the stores to pick up a CD for myself. I had already taken out a ten dollar bill and was holding it in my hand in my pants pocket. Suddenly I stopped walking and my feet were rooted to the ground. The CD was calling to me and, being a pretty frugal person, I knew I had to make a choice. Either this ten-dollar bill was going toward that CD or . . . it was going to that father and son. I spent a moment to think about it. Then, slowly I took the ten-dollar bill out, walked back and handed the bill to the man. He took it in the same way he had taken the money from the previous passerby, without a word or gesture.

My experience today calls to mind Meditation XVII by the poet John Donne. He had written something along the lines that no one of us is an Island, that we are all part of a single Continent called humanity, and that the suffering of any one of us diminishes us all.

I hope that as you partake in holiday cheer, you can take a moment to stop and notice the person on the street who may not have a place to sleep tonight or presents to open in the morning. Then do something about it.

Happy Holidays to all!

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