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December 20, 2019

The True Meaning of the Season

Fostering Community

Dr. Leanne Foster’s Address at this year’s Holiday Dinners:

At this time of year, social media ramps up stories of holiday cheer and kindness. I admit to being a bit of a softie when it comes to those “tug at the heartstrings” commercials and videos of cute puppies climbing clumsily out of a box wrapped with a big bow (although between you and me, I think that whole “Christmas morning surprise” isn’t quite as much fun for the puppy). One of these lovely messages came across my Facebook feed last week, posted by a friend. It tugged at my heartstrings not because of a puppy or a holiday song uncannily performed by a three-year-old musical savant but because of the thoughtfulness of this lovely idea. Here’s the story behind it.

My friend’s daughter has two young children, and like many parents, she struggles with the commercialization of Christmas and its overemphasis on consumerism. Her social media feed and email inbox are flooded daily (hourly, in fact) with ads for everything you supposedly need to make a child’s Christmas special. It’s hard for any other message to compete with the loud trumpeting of buy more, buy cheaper, buy faster, get it delivered to your door by tomorrow morning. Her son and daughter, too, are targeted with messages subtly directed at children that attempt to create that powerful sense of longing and sometimes even a sense of inadequacy that can only be filled by that special item (an item that just happens to be on sale today and today only)!

Thinking about a way to convey to her children the true meaning of the season, she “sent a message to Santa” and suggested the following idea. Her children would leave a box of toys and games under the tree – gently used toys and games, still in good shape and with at least one item that was a little bit hard to part with. These carefully chosen gifts would find their way to children whose parents weren’t able to buy presents that year. She knew that Santa’s network was far-reaching and there were many helpers in many organizations that would lend a hand to distribute these gently-loved gifts.

The next part of her idea was the part that I really loved. Each child would place four boxes under the tree, each box decorated with creativity, love and (I’m sure) lots of sparkles. The four boxes were labelled as follows: something I want, something I need, something to wear and something to read. On Christmas morning, each box would have one special item inside, chosen just for them. The thoughtfulness inherent in such a way of gifting spoke to the part of the holidays I fear is being lost. The part that reminds us it’s not about the presents but about the thought and care that went into that gift. It’s not about receiving more but about giving more. So let’s, as a community, push back against the message that we need to give more to show our love or that we need to receive more to feel loved. Whether you celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah, or simply spend this season enjoying time with family and friends, I hope we will all remember the words of the 20th century philosopher, the very wise Charlie Brown who said, “It’s not what’s under the Christmas tree that matters, it’s who’s around it.”

From my family to each and every one of yours, we wish you a season of blessings, of love, and of time with those who truly matter.

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