This year is the first year that my son and I are spending the Holiday mostly at home. Despite original feelings of sadness at the abrupt change, I was able to look at it as a wonderful opportunity for my small little family to begin our own traditions.
I’m a very counter-cultural parent when it comes to holiday norms. We don’t do Santa, Easter bunny, Tooth Fairy, none of it. My philosophy has always been that I want to teach my son the faith that I have. I’ve always felt that teaching him that characters associated with the holidays are real, along side of teaching him that God is real, can be confusing and contradictory. So our holiday is focused on the Christian roots and traditions.
Now that J is older, he’s more inquisitive and more capable of starting to have some understanding of the complexity of the Christmas story. Since entering kindergarten, the ability to avoid the permeating Santa culture was completely thwarted. So we’ve been having significant conversations about why we celebrate Christmas, why we give gifts, the origins of Santa, the story of St. Nick, etc etc.
Much to my delight, I think J has a decent understanding why we as a family celebrate Christmas, and why we give gifts. I was trying to come up with ways to foster the spirit of giving to others, as well as create a family tradition and memory that will outlast all the toys.
Because he’s young, and because I didn’t have a whole lot of planning time to think of elaborate ideas, I decided I wanted us to visit a local rehabilitation hospital that is extremely close to where we live.
So I made the call.
Let me tell you, it’s pretty awkward calling a hospital or the like and saying, I want to do something, and I’m not really sure what, but here’s my general idea, and what I really want to do is help teach my child the blessing of giving to others, blah blah. I rambled and I’m certain sounded pretty nonsensical. No less, I took the plunge. They were passing the message onto those who are capable of making the decisions, and I was left to wait.
I finally received a return call on Tuesday, 3 days prior to Christmas. We discussed some ideas, and came to something J would be capable of doing and they would be capable of safely sharing with their community.
The plan was to make 1 or 2 “cards” to display for the separate wings of the rehab hospital. Perfect. J would be able to do what he likes to do, draw.
When he got home from school on Tuesday, I told him I wanted to talk to him about something very special. We went over again what Christmas was about, and why we give gifts to each other. I asked him about people who are in hospitals. We talked about how they are often sick, and sometimes they are even sad. I told him he had a special opportunity to draw them a nice Christmas picture so that they can look at the picture and feel better and happy. He lit up. He had a mission, and he was going to accomplish it.
So rather than create a card, I took it a couple steps further and had J simply draw a holiday scene using a 12×16″ tablet he got for his birthday. It was a wonderful experience together creating. I taught him how to use different shades of green when coloring his tree so that he had a little bit more depth. I showed him how to draw the ornaments on top of the tree, instead of using a line darting out and drawing the ornament on that line ;-). I showed him how to draw snowflakes, Christmas stockings, gingerbread men, etc. We both had a great time teaching and creating together. I wound up having him create two scenes so that they could display them in both wings of the rehab center (we were on a roll, why not?!).
So Christmas Eve came, and that was the day I had planned on making the trip to deliver his artwork. Initial conversations gave a glimmer that J and I may potentially have the opportunity to visit some of the patients. Having prior experience working in retirement and rehab homes, I know first hand that many people simply enjoy the company of another person. Plus, J just happens to be cute as a button, and who wouldn’t be delighted by a visit from him? When I phoned Christmas eve, they told me that we wouldn’t be able to visit with any patients for health and safety reasons, but they certainly were looking forward to sharing what J has created with the patients.
Though slightly disappointed, I wouldn’t let that hamper what our true hearts intent was; to brighten the holidays for those who may need it. So without an ability to talk with people and explain why we chose to do this, I wrote up a little bio to go along with the artwork, with J’s mugshot for extra cute points.
I mounted the artwork onto black posterboard, and attached his little photo and bio to the bottom of both pieces. Here’s the final product:
So before we left, J and I discussed how we were going to take his pictures to the hospital to make the hurting, sick, and sad people feel better at Christmas time, but we wouldn’t be able to visit them. So off we went.
When we arrived, we went to the main counter, and explained why we were their. I have to tell you, there’s a level of humility in essentially telling folks, “Hi, we’re here to give something to the hospital just because, so here’s our hearts expression, please like it.”
They certainly did. The one lady working the counter seemed to either have extremely limited sight, or be completely blind. After some small talk with us, the capable sighted employee asked if she could read the description to the other employee while we were still there:
“Hi, my name is Jacob. I am 6 years old and am in kindergarten at Pleasant Gap Elementary School. My mommy was teaching me how important it is to give to others at Christmas. Though I may not have much to give, I wanted to share my talents with you. I hope you like the tree, decorations, and presents I drew in my picture. I hope the picture makes you smile and helps you have a special holiday.”
I guess I didn’t realize that my quick little write up could have really been all that great, but standing there, hearing it read back to us, it felt good. Then their reaction made it much more worthwhile.
“This is precious. I just got goose bumps.” “Yeah, I did too. Jacob, our patients are going to love this, you did a wonderful job.”
So I choked back a couple tears.
J seemed to feel good with the compliments of his work. I’m not sure he quite grasps what he did, but regardless, he did something wonderful. Though we won’t be able to see the patients reactions to his gifts, him touching the two employees at the front desk was enough to feel like we did something beyond ourselves. It was good. We did good.
Next year I hope to take more time and come up with ways to give back more than what we did this year. But one of my goals was to start the tradition of giving to others around the holidays. Not focus so much on ourselves, or our petty little struggles but focus on serving other people. Isn’t that what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown?
Hoping everyone has a blessed and happy holiday.