LESLIE CRISS: Moment from Christmas past serves as reminder of holiday’s message



“Christmas is not as much about opening our presents as opening our hearts.” – Janice Maeditere

More than 30 years ago, on a Friday in early December, I drove to Clinton to spend a weekend with my sister.

Beth was in college at my alma mater, Mississippi College; I was on the Gulf Coast teaching junior high kids.

I was hoping for a fun and relatively quiet weekend with people a little closer to my age. Maybe a movie and a meal.

There were, however, other plans already in place.

Beth’s friend Risa was throwing a Christmas party Saturday night and we were invited.

Parties are fun. I could handle that.

It was not until late Saturday afternoon that we learned the details.

Risa entered my sister’s dorm room burdened with sacks of every size. After setting them down around her feet, she faced her audience – a captive crowd of about 10.

“Pair up,” she said in a no-nonsense tone that reminded me of my own when addressing my students. “Pick a gift out of these sacks and wrap it.”

Ah, perhaps we were going to play Dirty Santa at the party. Then Risa informed us she was collectively giving us the gift of giving.

Seems she’d obtained from a community organization in Clinton the name of a family whose father had been unable to work for some time. A family who, except for a small tree, would not have much of a Christmas. Materially speaking, anyway.

So we partygoers piled into our warm cars and trailed the guiding tail lights of Risa’s car into the black darkness of a cold December night.

We reached our destination and upon entering the small home were welcomed by a gracious group of folks, this family.

For the next few hours we shared songs, sweets and stories until we were all warmed by the fellowship with the strangers.

That long-ago Christmas season has continued to shape my perspective. It’s when I came to believe it truly is more blessed to give than to receive.

We don’t have to all take gifts to strangers, but we can find ways of giving of ourselves, always, but especially during this season.

Even if it is just to offer a kind word to a disgruntled cashier or shout “Merry Christmas,” (and really mean it) to a tired shopper or to reach out and hug a friend tightly … just because.

After all, if we think of another night more than 2,000 years ago, perhaps we will all remember how someone offered a supreme example of the gift of giving.

And isn’t that what Christmas is really all about?



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