Christmas is suppose to be the happy season for children. Well, in most cases that is only half true. Christmas is a joyful, hopeful season with a gospel both read and sung in hundreds of different tunes and fashions. I love the songs of christmas, the gospel of christmas, the smell of christmas. I did as a child too, but christmas had another dimension as well. One that far too many children have learned to recognize and braze themselves to face.
The great seasons put a pressure on us, many things must fall into place; the food, the decorations , the preparations, the parties , the gifts. Everything fancy and homemade, tinkling eyes and happy smiles, chestnuts roasting on an open fire...that sort of things.
Christmas, with the poor infant sleeping on hay, greeted by angels.
We weren't believers in my family. We didn't attend any services, not on christmas or any season. Our small school however, had a close relation to the local church and every year we were welcomed to sing and have schoolplays about the sacred family.
We had traditions, yes, but they were all about food and decorations. The timing was important, the position of decorations, the food prepared.
Our house was mostly a mess. The night before christmas was crucial, if the cleaning wasn't done before christmas morning, all was lost. I knew my mother spent the night cleaning and finishing up what the rest of us was too tired to muster. She was no great cook or baker, most was bought. Christmas used to be rather calm, but recent years had become different. It was the alcohol. There was promises being made, no alcohol during christmas. But when things got bad ,those promises had a weak baring. We knew , we could almost sense it, smell it. It stuck like something you've eaten that made you feel bad once and when you next thought of it, the nausea came back to you. A sort of fear, uncalled for but present.
We knew this christmas was going to be bad. We were told there would be only a few presents and that money was scarce. The housecleaning was done in an absentminded fashion, almost as if the season already had passed. I can't remember all details, perhaps we didn't even have a tree that year.What I do remember is that on christmas eve, there was none of the food we usually had. The cupboards where empty of christmas specials, hardly any food at all, actually and the unpayed bill in the local groceriestore was larger than usual. No more discount, no more credit. When things where bad and alcohol was talking, we had to go down to the shop and leave the written note, pleading for only a few more days. This time that didn't work.
Christmas came with no food, no candy, hardly anything but decorations.
Those were the alarming consequenses of alcohol. As a child you didn't think anyone knew, these things are best kept secret. But people knew alright, I just didn't understand until grown ups came up to me saying angry, accusing things about my family. In such a small community, that was devastating.
But there were exceptions, people that understood and acted with the best of intentions.
This christmas, I was rather deprived of the happy childhood christmases everybody talked about, or so I thought. But the neighbours knew. And they didn't confront us with angry accusations or scorn. They came walking over with a basket. In that basket was food, cake, candy and some presents. No fuss about it, no teary eyed, softvoiced sympathy, no leaning heads and clunched hands. Just: we had a bit too much of everything and understood you had a bit short of it right now so if you don't mind we packed a few things down. " And so they smiled and returned into the darkness and rather snowy afternoon, to their own house.
I was deeply ashamed. But those particular neighbours were really very friendly in a natural sort of way, so I kept that feeling hidden. It was a great relief to unpack the basket. Children
are practical, they want to survive and more than that. Mum cried and made a fool of herself, but that was from my point of view. The whole thing was of course very sad and I often think of it, when I hear of children running from war, lacking everything a childhood should be, except loving parents.
We had loving parents, they just couldn't always live up to the standards and demands. It took many years before that knowledge and understanding could reach in and replace the bitterness and contempt in us.
Blessed be those loving neighbours, they saved christmas that year and kept that very hopeful and convincing view alive, that goodness really does exist and that nothing is for granted.
There was bad christmases both before and after this one, but this one, the basket Christmas, came to be the very best of the bad. A proof of respect and kindness, the inner feeling and meaning of the christmas gospel although I didn't know at the time.
What did we learn? Eventually, that parents are no superheroes that can cope with every situation. We learned that nothing ever is for granted and that happiness is something you have to emerge and treasure when it comes to you, because it isn't the standard of life. In our lives we also have a responsibility to bring happiness when we are able to, to those who lack it. Sometimes we give because we have plenty, or we give because we don't have plenty but giving makes us rich and happy.
WE never promised our children anything that couldn't be kept as far as we knew and when we couldn't live up to parenthood, our children were the first to know about it because we have been speaking very openly to them about life, struggle and happiness. Yes, sometimes we fail as well, but in the failure lies the mercy of grace. Christmas can sometimes arrive in a basket, and be blessed even so.