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Christmas -4 days.

Christmas is done for the year.  We took our tree down, hauled it up to the attic and all the evidence of Christmas is gone, as if it never happened.  We each left an ornament out to remember the changes we want to make this Christmas and throughout the next year, but in our house, that’s not really out of the ordinary.

What is out of the ordinary?  Choosing to help others and live differently in a way that changes life as we know it.  My kids really didn’t seem all that bothered by the lack of gifts they got from me.   They still received the mandatory 27+ gifts from my mother, gifts they will never give a second thought to once they are put away.  They were both on board with the plan of donating money to their favorite charities, but I just wasn’t so sure come Christmas, they would still feel that way.  I was pleasantly surprised.  Christmas evening, after the kids came home, we rented a few movies and enjoyed some time together.  After all, I had not seen them for almost a week.

Yesterday we ventured into the stores, only for the purpose of grocery shopping and finding a small rug for my closet floor.  No store was exempt from the typical long return lines and post-holiday sale events.  Seriously, I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

I decided yesterday to clean out my closet and get rid of the mountain of unused linens.  Why do I feel the need to hang on to stuff that I will never use again?  I made the compulsory closet purge, filled up the Infiniti sleigh and headed for the thrift store.

After unloading our surplus of worldly possessions, we went treasure hunting.  No, not shopping, treasure hunting.  Shopping is buying overpriced new ‘goods’ at large chain stores.  Treasure hunting is finding something special, previously owned by someone else at a price that doesn’t break the bank.  My kids quickly made their way to the toy section, disappointed that it was mostly baby toys.  I headed for the crowded book area, my kids not far behind.

I found a Man Ray photography book for 50 cents, which in the bookstore, was probably closer to $50.  Man Ray is one of my photography inspirations, mostly for photograms.  My photogram ‘Coffee Addict’ is one of my favorites… not that I have coffee issues or anything like that.

Cole found a Star Wars picture book, which he kept directly in front of his face in the entire time we were there, miraculously not walking into anyone or anything.

As we were making our way toward the front of the store, I stopped to see if there were any jeans or sweatshirts for the boys.  I guess everyone has been doing their Christmas purge, as the racks had three times the amount they usually do.  I found this t-shirt that pretty much sums up what society is teaching our kids.  “WARNING: allergic to lame gifts.”  I wanted to buy the shirt just so I could destroy it and take it out of the clothing circulation.  I would have saved the small candy cane skull icon though, as it seems appropriate to use as a symbol of our cultural Christmas consumerism.

As we neared the front of the store, Joe didn’t seem to bothered that he didn’t find anything.  That is, until he turned the corner to find a kid-sized guitar, complete with stand and strings.  His little face lit up and I knew that guitar would be coming home with us before he even asked.  I don’t know much about musical instruments, but just the stand alone probably would have cost $19.99, which was the price for both.

We stood in the very short line at the checkout, quickly making it to the register.  The lady at the counter was very nice, talking to all three of us as we were paying for our purchases.  The last item rung up was Joe’s guitar.  The lady asked who it was for and I pointed to Joe.  I explained to her that he has been wanting to learn how to play, but the full size guitar I bought a while back, still has no strings and was really too big for him.  She told me, with a very sad face, that this guitar belonged to her son… her son that had passed away six years ago, and she finally had the courage to part with some of his things.  I promised her that it was going to a home where it would be appreciated and loved.

As we were leaving the store, Joe asked me if the guitar belonged to another kid, as he overheard part of our conversation.  A little uncomfortable with his completely appropriate question, I tried to shuffle him out of the store so I could explain about the previous owner.  The lady heard him and said, “It belonged to my son and he’s in heaven now.”  What does anyone say to that?  There are no words that could have lessened her pain or brought him back.

As we climbed in the car, there was grief-stricken silence.  A silence broken only by discussion of the young boy that we never knew, yet felt so attached to at that moment.  Both kids had many questions about the boy, “How did he die?  Are you sure he really died?  How old was he?  What happened to him?  Why did his mom still have his guitar?”  They were asking questions I would never have answers to, and questions I’m not sure they thought would be answered.  I had the same questions in my head, but speechlessly saying a small prayer that the lady would have some peace around her son’s death, a situation where I cannot comprehend a peace could possibility exist.

We tend to surround ourselves with things we like, stuff that entertains us or makes us happy.  Material things are not evil, that is, unless we order our lives around them instead of people and relationships.  I don’t see a problem with a bound portfolio for artistic inspiration, a book for imagination and fantasy or a guitar to learn self-expression through music.  Inanimate objects are visual triggers for remembrance, things that pull memories from deep within our minds, surfacing them as current thoughts for enjoyment, reflection and sometimes necessary action.

Are all of my non-essential possessions useful or meaningful?  Not entirely, but I can honestly say that most of them have some meaning or story behind them.  I don’t do new year resolutions, but I will challenge myself to be more aware of my attachment to belongings.  I guess belongings is a good word for this, as it is broken down to ‘be longing’.

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15 days until Christmas…

I was listening to talk radio on my way to work yesterday.  It was so incredibly cold I didn’t want to let go of my warm coffee mug to steer the car, much less turn on the radio.  The news guy was reporting on the experiences of the fake mall Santas this year, disclosing the newest Christmas lists they’re receiving.  Many of the kids sitting on Santa’s lap are not asking for the typical toys and electronics, they’re asking for basic necessities.  “Mommy really needs a job” or “Could we just have our house back?”  Some others are asking for food and clothing.  You know the economy is bad when kids are happy to get socks and underwear for Christmas.

Santa Claus.  The historical Saint and the modern day icon of commercialized Christmas.  Who is Santa?  Santa has many roots in history spanning the globe, roots also ranging from Christianity to paganism.  The early Christian Santa was Saint Nicholas.  He was a Saint that gave generous gifts to the poor, especially to daughters of poor parents so they did not have to become prostitutes.  I could go on for days here about the history of Santa, but he did have his start as a good guy that helped people.

 

Honestly, I’ve always struggled with the whole Santa thing.  I did not want my kids believing that some overweight guy in a furry red suit is going to give them anything they want for Christmas.  Their dad said that was wrong and I was awful for even thinking it.  Choose your battles, right?  I chose not to fight this one.

My earliest recollection of Santa is asking my parents if Santa was real.  I was in kindergarten, five or six years old, and already wondering how one guy could go around the planet in one night, bringing lots of stuff to kids.  And don’t get me started on the flying reindeer and sleigh.  I suppose my over-analyzing of everything started at an early age.  My parents told me the truth and quickly proceeded to tell me that my knowledge was a secret.  I wasn’t very good at keeping secrets back then.  Even with my secret knowledge, Santa continued to bring me lots of toys and stuff, and much more than he brought anyone else.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I’m not a Scrooge, and if anyone understands fantasy and imagination, it’s me.  Christmas is a magical time for little ones, filled with excitement and fun, that is, in our American culture.  What does the whole idea of Santa say to our children?  We tell our kids at the dinner table that there are starving kids in other countries and they had better eat everything on their plate, and yet if they behave, Santa will bring them everything they want at the end of the year.  I simply can’t feel good about this.  If Santa has enough resources to give us anything we want, then why doesn’t he help out with poverty?

My kids learned the truth very early this year.  Santa is not real, it’s your parents giving you the Christmas stuff.  Now my boys are very close in age, but polar opposites.  Cole sees everything in black and white, whereas Joe’s world is all delightful shades of gray.  When they learned of this news, my youngest Joe, pretended to not listen and carefully responded, not committing to this concept.  Maybe if he doesn’t accept it, then he’ll still get all the presents.  Cole, on the other hand, was extremely upset.  He said, “So, let me get this straight.  You’ve been lying to me this whole time?”  We had at least a half hour talk about why evil parents lie to their children about Santa.

After this very long and depressing conversation, I decided to take this opportunity to teach my kids about Santa.  Not the look-alike mall Santa, but the conceptual Santa.  It’s time to go from believing in Santa to being Santa.  Helping people in need is being Santa.  When my kids see Santa, the look-alikes or the flat wood cutouts in the neighbors yard, I want them to think of doing a random act of kindness or helping impoverished people.

Here’s the daily photo collection, yes, a collection of Santas.  I have to highlight one of these.

I like this one a lot because I took this photograph in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico… in May.  Santa must be hot in his winter clothing, but he still looks happy to be there.  If we think of Santa in a new way, then he is not just a Christmas figure, but a visual representation of goodwill, unity and inspiration.  I think the people in Mexico understand this concept already and we can learn a lot from them, as we always do on our trips to Casa Hogar Elim.

The rest of the photos?  I think they speak for themselves.  Oh, and remember, the ‘dead Santas’ were featured a few days ago.

Okay, I probably shouldn’t include this photo since I was people watching and secretly snapped this, but I just can’t help myself.  What was she thinking when she got dressed this morning?

Merry Christmas and enjoy it with a new vision.  No, I don’t mean this last photograph that is burned into your brain, I mean get outside yourself and your comfort zone.  Help others, not only this Christmas, but all year round.


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