December 15, 2009

Maybe It's Me: Love Incarnate, or, The Meaning Behind Pears

What was the first gift of Christmas, lo those many moons ago?

Do you know?

Here’s a hint: it’s the only gift that ever mattered.

And it didn’t come from a store.

Yet, it seems to be overshadowed and underappreciated by all the other gifts, all the ones with price tags people seem hassled and forced into giving each other year after year. Maybe it’s me but the entire topic of gift-giving at the holiday season seems to be an ever increasing stressful one; a burden that escalates with each passing year.

I heard on the radio that people’s hardships are shoved back in their face by the stark contrast of yuletide-covered consumerism that inundates us from every media source there is. We’re being blinded with commercials of people only overjoyed once they’ve received a gift – some trite thing they didn’t necessarily need, but wanted. We’re being audibly drowned with radio advertisements from presidents of companies who claim their product is going to make our loved ones love us only more.

It’s no wonder people are their most depressed at this time of year. People who have little to no money are being told that the only way to celebrate the holidays, the only way to express to their loved ones that they care and are being thought of during the holidays, is to spend. Spend money on trees and decorations; spend more money on presents.

My sister is one of those people who finds Christmas to be a dark, lonely season. Nobody can quite figure out why, but we think it’s perhaps because she feels obligated to buy gifts for people with money she doesn’t have. We think she’s been beaten down by the commercialism of it all that she’s completely forgotten that Christmas isn’t about buying things for people, Christmas is about a Babe born two thousand some odd years ago under a bright Northern Star. A Babe wise men traveled thousands of miles to bow before, a Babe animals humbled themselves in front of. A Babe that brought hope and peace and quieted the raging storm within the hard-hearts of the time.

My dad, a wise man in his own right, has been frustrated with my little sister. No one can seem to get through to her. He tried explaining to her that he didn’t want anything from her. If she couldn’t afford it, then it wasn’t worth it. And if she didn’t want to get him something, than it was even less worth it. “I don’t buy gifts for you girls because I have to. I buy them because I want to. If I have the money, I’m gonna share what I can with you.”

He went on to explain to my sister that just hanging out with her family – enjoying each others’ company, eating together, laughing together – that was enough for him. But she didn’t seem to get it. Everything has a price! Everyone has a price! She cries. And yet, we’d all just be content if she crawled out from her self-imposed gloom and went to a tree-lighting with us (they’re free in most parts!) or a holiday concert at one of the high school (free, too!) or drove around and looked at the pretty lights (yep, totally free of charge).

But she just doesn’t get it.

She doesn’t seem to understand that love could be the perfect gift for Christmas.

A lot of people don’t.

My very first Christmas as an adult was really difficult for me, because it was the first time I would fall asleep by myself and wake up just as alone on the most important day of the year. I had spent every Christmas up until then with my family – spending Christmas Eve watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” before heading to bed in a room only yards away from my snoring parents. Then I’d wake up Christmas Morning to hear them talking or drinking coffee in the kitchen. Lying very still in my squeaky childhood bed, I’d listen to the life sounds of these people who raised me. There is something undeniably soothing to the soul about the familiar tread of their step or the crack of their knuckles, the way they clear their throat or sip their tea.

That first Christmas as an adult, living on my own, was lonesome because at the end of Christmas Eve, I drove back to empty, cold apartment to be greeted by, well, no one. Knowing full well that this was my fate, I was taken aback when I opened the front door to my building and saw a small Christmas gift resting against the door to my apartment.

It was a bag filled with ripe pears.

And while I still don’t know why the neighbor across the hall did this, I do know it touched my heart and soul in a way that I could never explain. It was such a lovely, thoughtful, and completely random thing. And yet, in my own moment of sadness and holiday desperation, it was a beautiful, bright moment. I sat in my bed, not a creature stirring, fully embracing the solitude and enjoyed the wonderful fruit, it’s sweet juice and the salt from my tears mixing together in my throat.

My neighbor gave me the bag of pears out of love. She didn’t have to; she wanted to because she knew the ripe fruit would nourish and uplift my soul.

And it is one of the best gifts I've ever received in all my years of living.

And it probably always will be.

And it barely cost her a cent.

So, have you figured it out, yet?

What was the first gift of Christmas, lo those many moons ago?

The first gift of Christmas was love. A parent’s love so rich and so deep that He gave his one true son as a sacrificial lamb for all the rest of us to someday return to Him.

Christmas is about love.

Christmas is love.

And more people need to focus on this back-to-basics holiday approach. To concentrate on this true meaning of Christmas, to embrace the glory of the simple, yet completely empowering feeling of loving and being loved.

Especially in the season created from it.