While for most, Christmas is a time of joy, family and love, not everyone finds this season bearable. For some, Christmas is a reminder of loss, pain and devastation.
I have been there, both in years past and throughout 2018, but as I reminisced on the difficult year my family has endured, I was reminded of a previous Christmas and the hope that ultimately endures.
It was 14 years ago when paychecks were small and months were long. Exhausted from another cold, 11-hour day at FedEx delivering Christmas presents, I shuffled my weary feet toward my front door. Like every other night, before I set foot in the house, I would always flip on the power switches to ignite all of our festive Christmas lights.
Our meager decorations included white icicle lights, muti-colored shrub lights and an old-school plastic Santa that stood three feet tall. Our illuminated house, a small rental, was by no means the most impressive or elaborate in town. No one would confuse Martha Stewart as the decorator or wonder if we would ever adorn a December cover of Better Homes and Gardens. It didn’t matter. It was home to me, my stay-at-home wife and our two small children. To me it was picturesque, until something went strangely wrong.
Financially, we were getting by but not much more. Living on a single income had brought its share of challenges but we had decided after our firstborn that we would cut whatever corners were necessary so my wife Missy could be home with the kids. That’s how she started hustling me into getting up early on Saturday mornings to get the best “deals” at local garage “sales.”
On one such excursion, I saw something special, something I deemed valuable, and something that I knew I couldn’t live without. It was an old-timey plastic Santa, the kind that takes a regular light bulb and is usually only purchased by the regular instead of the rich. Although Missy wasn’t impressed, I was captured.
He was very old and in a style that dated back to my childhood days. His cheeks were not as rosy as they had been in his glory days, the sun had faded his suit and hat from cherry red to pink and his once watermelon green toy sack was now the color of light celery. To me, he couldn’t have looked better, and I knew I would the leave the sale with Santa regardless of what it cost me. The seller was asking for $3 but with my pretended lack of interest, I negotiated the cost down to $2.50.
Although I purchased Santa in the spring of that year, I couldn’t wait to take him out of hiding in late November. He stood incandescent and proud on our humble front porch under the glow of the icicle lights that hung on our roof trim.
A couple of weeks before Christmas, I came home from work and when I got to my front door to turn on our lights I noticed Santa was missing. I wondered why Missy would move him…and where? When I inquired where Santa had gone, she thought I was joking and followed me out the door to investigate. We looked all around the house, and he was nowhere to be found.
I verbalized my frustration at the kind of person who would walk up to someone’s front porch and steal Santa Claus. I was so ticked. Sure, my plastic Santa wasn’t worth a lot of money but he was worth a lot in stoking memories.
We didn’t discuss it after a few days but over the course of the next few months, I thought about it often because the porch seemed so bare. Something was missing.
It seems it is often one of the hardest things about Christmas. Sometimes it is a family member who can’t travel home or even worse – a family member who will never return because they have passed away. It can be the loss of a job, a close friendship, a dream unfulfilled or the agonizing loss of one’s health. Something missing…lost…taken away… is the hardest part of Christmas.
Our family knows this all too well. In March of this year, my 19-year-old daughter, a girl who has never been to the hospital since she was born, was diagnosed with an incurable disease known as “stills.” We have lived the majority of this year in a hospital room wondering if she was going to live. She was back in the emergency room just two weeks ago. A lot seems to be missing this Christmas season.
While many of us are feeling the sting of people, health or things missing from our lives, I’m reminded that Christmas is also a time of hope: hope of better times and things restored. It is the belief and faith in greater days ahead.
Inexplicably, one hot July day I came home from work to discover Santa was returned to our front porch: without a note, without an explanation, and without damage.
What was taken was restored, what was lost was found and what was stolen was returned. It’s the hope and message that every Christmas brings.