Unification News for November 1998

Itís More Blessed to Give and Receive

by Cathi Close-Arlington, VA

Holiday season is upon us. Try as we might, it is virtually impossible to avoid becoming immersed in the traditions and expressions of what Christmastime has come to mean in America. Our kids catch the idea very young and from then on the best we can hope for is financial damage control. Itís only a very few who can swim against the tide of excessive gift giving. Very few who donít panic at the last minute, worried that we didnít get *enough* for our kids.

I have to admit that as the Christmas season approaches I do find myself getting excited about it nonetheless. For better or worse, our family goes all out at Christmas. The way we justify this is that during the course of the year we practice deprivation (as the rule, not the exception.) The way this works is that basically for many requests our kids make (pertaining to material things mostly) there are ten "nos" for every "yes". In a culture which encourages excess, this is a major challenge but the reward is that our kids can get excited about something as simple as a lollipop or a rare trip to McDonalds. Gradually they learn to expect less and appreciate more.

Years ago I heard a phrase that has ever since stuck in my mind. "An occasional extravagance reconciles one to habitual thrift." I liked the idea behind it, sort of along the line of "less is more" with an added ooomph!

So come Christmas we overdo it. Not just as far as purchasing special gifts but in decorating the house and tree. Iím not being prejudiced when I say that we have one of the most beautiful Christmas trees Iíve ever seen. Itís not gaudy at all but it *is* loaded. We collect angel ornaments and every conceivable form of angel that has ever been created graces our home with their heavenly presence on our tree.

While celebrations are great, it just doesnít seem right to focus solely on our own family. As nice as we try to make our holiday experience, we know that there are many less fortunate than we are. But, somehow I have never been satisfied with token giving. It has itís place but is lacking the personal connection so needed on *both* sides. For me to go out and purchase a gift for my child to turn in at school feels so distant .

There is a form of poverty in our nation and our world which afflicts the rich as well as the poor. It is the ignorance that we are all brothers and sisters in one human family. There are very real barriers within and without which keep us separated not only from each other but from our true selves.

I was particularly inspired by the Bridge of Peace ceremonies which took place during the past WFWP conferences. While walking over a bridge together does not necessarily change the world then what does? I think that the reason so many participants were moved to tears during this ceremony is because somehow it managed to reach to the very heart of what *will* change the world. The unity created through genuine expressions of love.

How can we bridge the many distances that exist between people with our good intentions and acts of kindness? This is a concern of mine and it has resulted in one holiday tradition that our family has practiced for the past few years which seeks to make an effort in this direction. And with wonderful success.

Since so many Secret Santa programs are already available during the Christmas season (which we also participate in) we decided to take it a step further. We contacted a local homeless shelter and got the names of five families who at one time were in the shelter but are now living in their own apartments. These families were asked in advance if they would like to receive not only a live tree but also decorations. They were very enthusiastic. Later some told us that it was the first time they ever had a Christmas tree at all.

To me, the Christmas tree is such an inspiring symbol. The fragrance, the peace, the magic that it conveys to our senses. To take a small token of Godís creation and turn it into a work of art and beauty with our own creative touches . Isnít that symbolic of the potential in our own lives?

We organized families who were interested in participating and made up an itemized list of what each person would contribute as far as lights, bulbs, garlands, ornaments, tree stands and cookies. My husband managed to get a local hardware store to donate five trees. In addition to the contributed decorations, the families got together and made some really nice home-made ornaments.

The weekend before Christmas five families were designated to not only deliver but set up and decorate the trees with the recipient families. This was the most wonderful part of the project for us. We brought cookies and drinks and our kids. Everyone got to meet each other and have a good time together and each year we have made new and lasting friendships.

Unexpected developments have come about which we never anticipated. Last year we delivered a tree to a woman who is raising her niece who came from Bolivia in order to receive special treatments from the Shriver Hospital in Boston because she is a burn victim. This woman whoís children are already grown and on their own has had her own unique course of suffering and struggle. To hear what she has endured and gone through in her past is to seriously appreciate much of what we often take for granted. Yet she responds to the needs of this child and sacrifices much for her benefit.

When they travel to Boston for the treatments four times a year, she spends weeks at a time sleeping in her nieceís hospital room while working at local fast food restaurants in order to keep the rent and bills paid while sheís gone. Back home, in addition to working her regular job as a waitress, she does house-cleaning and works part time at a local beauty salon. On top of all of that she is studying to get her beautician license. After we met she insisted on cutting everyoneís hair in our family (with 6 kids plus 2 adults, this is an expense we have a very hard time affording.

Itís become our monthly routine now to troop over to her apartment to get our haircuts. We visit and talk and there is really no line between us that designates one as the haves and the other as the have-not. If you ask me, I think weíre getting the better end of the deal. (Of course, we pay her now but itís not nearly what it would cost us to even go to the most inexpensive hair salon and much more enjoyable.) I must add that she is a darned good stylist and believe me, our teens are hard to please!

Another single mom we met two years ago has a son the age of one of our kids. What began as inviting him to our house on some weekends to give her a break and give him a chance to ride bikes, roller-blade and play outdoors ended up with him being our sonís best buddy and practically part of the family. Heís spent every other weekend at our house for the past two years.

Our kids are learning, through the relationships that have developed, that we gain from the effort as much as anyone. Not only do they have a sense of reaching out to others to share the holiday spirit but the friendships that are formed are the unexpected gift we receive back!

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