Christmas has always been the most important time in my family. Christmas Eve has been a night spent reflecting on the previous year and where I want to be in the next year. Coming from a very Christian family, it’s been a time to hone in on how important Christ is in our lives and has always had a sort of magical essence to its night.
While holidays bring about feelings of nostalgia and the peace that only comes from being at home, they also can be quite painful for many. They stir up reminders of who is no longer with us and blatantly put in our face any breakups we might have gone through recently. They tend to hold a microscope up to everything that is missing in our lives, as we see images of happy couples, full families and perfect Christians in the media.
The last time I saw my sister was on Christmas. We were fighting, as we usually did during the holidays. We were just so different. I was a girly-girl times a thousand, wearing makeup and the hottest trends from where I lived in NYC. I was more reserved, so quiet that it was often taken as being stuck-up by those who did not know me. I was always lost in daydreams of the stories I wanted to write and guys I wanted to fall in love with. She was a Wyoming girl at heart, never leaving our hometown behind, even as she moved to Boston. She was athletic, driven and never understood why I would be so into fashion and the more frivolous things of life. I was a die-hard Christian hoping to go to seminary someday, while she had an ongoing battle with her faith and was never quite sure if she believed in God. She was loud, always speaking her mind.
A disagreement erupted at dinner, as I struggled to get a word in edgewise. As with most holiday meals, I once again felt like I was being buried by both of my sisters’ vibrant personalities and strong opinions. I spent all day cooking and making sure everything was perfect, only to fade into an abyss as my sisters stole the spotlight. I finally spoke up, trying to talk about my life in NYC, and was quickly silenced and judged for my city-life. That was it. Tears followed and the rest of the night was nothing but a good old catfight between three sisters.
I was supposed to go to breakfast with her husband and her the next morning, but skipped after the awful nights of the events before. While we actually miraculously grew closer over the next six months as we found commonalities in the life she was living in Boston, and mine in NYC, I never saw her again after that Christmas. She took her own life that following summer.
Now, as each Christmas comes around, I remember her. My best Christmas memory is of us driving to my grandparents’ house in Wisconsin when I was around five years old, and her pointing up to a red light of a passing plane and telling me that it was Rudolf and Santa Clause. I was so excited that I had finally spotted the mysterious Mr. Clause. It’s amazing how someone can be the source of your happiest and your worst Christmas memories.
The point is that while the media portrays Christmas as an epic, wonderful time in life, that portrayal can negatively affect those struggling with the loss of loved ones, fights with relatives, breakups, the loss of a job.
It’s important that we take some extra time in the midst of our happiness to look for opportunities to help others and make them feel a little more loved. We need to slow down and actually listen to the response when we ask people how they are doing. We need to be a little more perceptive over how a coworker might be feeling, or events that are happening in our own relatives lives.
While a huge part of the holiday season is celebrating the beautiful moments in our lives, another large part is being intentional about being a light in the lives of others. I challenge you as you head into the Christmas weekend this year to be perceptive and search for opportunities where you can provide sanctuary to those hurting. I’ve included a few ideas below to jumpstart your thinking:
Leave Gifts On Random Doorsteps
This is one of my favorite things. Bake some cookies, add some candy canes and a sweet note, and drop off this mini packages on the doorsteps in a random neighborhood in your town. It’s amazing how one small surprise package can uplift someone.
Bring Your Leftovers To A Homeless Shelter
I always cook way too much food around the holidays. I could freeze it, but I also know that there are those struggling in homeless shelters in my community. Donate your leftover Christmas dinner to a shelter the same night, or the day after, to help those in need.
Invite An Acquaintance To Christmas Dinner
I had to talk my family into this one, as we have always had pretty private holiday meals. However, there were moments when I was in college and living in NYC when I could not make it home for the holidays and families took me in. I can never thank those families enough for making me feel just a little less alone. Invite someone you know does not have any plans for the holidays to your dinner and let them feel a little bit of warmth from your family and friends.
Visit The Homeless
I interviewed two young girls about the loss of their brother recently, and they told me an incredible story about him that sparked an idea for my own life. He won a year’s worth of food from a local restaurant and decided to cash it all in at once and then deliver the meals to the homeless during the holiday season. He would spend time chatting with each person he met, learning their story and praying with them. I cannot think of a better way to reach out to those in need.
Say Some Extra Prayers
As a woman of faith, I strongly believe in the power of prayer. If you also pray, intentionally add those hurting this holiday season to your prayer list. Ask God to show you how you can help them and then listen and act.
These are just some of the ways that you can provide light in the darkness this Christmas. Have other ideas? Leave them in the comments below!
– Marji J. Sherman