The terminology is confusing to me — Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday. Really? I remember when “Black Friday” was simply known as…well, the day after Thanksgiving. I’m dating myself, but I long for the simplicity of the day after Thanksgiving with its lingering aromas and cold turkey with cranberry sandwiches. I have no desire to participate in the midnight madness, regardless of the huge amounts of money I can save. And do we really need to be bombarded with retail sales statistics as though the entire U.S. economy is teetering on the brink of disaster if we don’t frantically rush to the mall?
I grew up in rural Idaho, the daughter of a small business owner. The Larsen family’s economy was based on the success of the potato farmers in our area. I understand the importance of shopping and the energy of money. And frankly, I do my fair share to keep our economy humming. I’ve simply decided to personally stimulate the economy from mid-January through mid-November. The holiday season should be about something different, something more.
Reclaim Christmas. Yes, that’s what I intend to do. The seed of this desire was planted last year, Christmas of 2011. I moved to Los Altos, California in September of 2011 to be with my daughter Sharlie, her husband Ryan and their four-year-old son, Harrison. Sharlie, who has bravely battled Cystic Fibrosis all her life, had been accepted by the heart/lung transplant team at Stanford University. One of the many requirements was that she have two caretakers. I was honored to assume the role, although — as is usually the case when we attempt to serve — I constantly found myself on the receiving end of care, love and joy.
We were told the average wait was around two months so it didn’t occur to me that I wouldn’t be home for Christmas. The days and weeks passed. Sharlie grew weaker as she waited for her new organs. Around Thanksgiving it became clear we might not be home in San Diego for Christmas. When I first had this thought, a wave of panic hit me. How would we do it? What would Christmas be like without all the trappings and trimmings that overflow my Christmas storage closet? And what would I purchase for everyone? Even though Sharlie was the recipient of an outpouring of generosity through numerous fund-raising efforts, we were watching our funds carefully; not knowing how much would be needed to cover Sharlie’s medical expenses.
We simplified. Peace and Joy are words used to describe the season…and that’s exactly what I felt. Peace! Joy! It was glorious. Because we were renting and only had a small space for a tree, Ryan, Shar and Harrison found a perfect three-footer. We draped one string of lights on it and Sharlie and I circled it with chains we fashioned from ribbon. Harrison and I walked hand-in-hand, scouring our neighborhood gathering clumps of red berries and a few pine cones that he gently placed on the branches. A rough-hewn star adorned the top of our little tree. During a weekend trip with my husband Ric to the quaint community of Half Moon Bay, I found a charming, wooden nativity set that put the final, most important component on our decor.
My very favorite shop in Los Altos is a second-hand store run by volunteers of the American Cancer Society. It became my personal treasure trove – and I was able to find unique, gently worn gifts for my family and friends — a crystal bell, a set of antique candlesticks, a silver teapot, a decorative serving bowl, a Christmas candy plate. I put a great deal of thought and love (polishing the silver!) and very little money into my purchases and somehow that made them more special, more significant.
Family and friends came from all over to visit and it meant the world to us. We played games, put together puzzles and drove around looking at all the twinkling lights. We hosted a mini Christmas Pageant in our home for Harrison’s pre-school class. My sister Sydney sent us a beautiful Christmas CD and the music lifted us. We baked goodies, took long, slow walks and cherished our time together.
Yes, something changed for me last Christmas. No one said it, but we all knew that time was precious and the future uncertain. My prayers became more poignant, more urgent. Would this be the last Christmas I’d share with my precious daughter?
On February 16th, 2012, Sharlie received her transplant and her comeback has been astonishing. She’s relishing every moment of this Christmas season — her first with her new heart and lungs. She no longer needs caretakers…in fact, she constantly seems to be doing for others — and she has the energy and determination to fulfill all her dreams. She is grateful for every beat of her heart and for every breath she takes. Sharlie is loving her life and living it to its fullest. When I spoke to her today she sounded breathless…but it was from the excitement of decorating their home and not from exhaustion. What a gift!
We all returned home a few months ago and life — beautiful LIFE! — is pretty much back to normal. But not really. A change has settled on my heart. From now on, Christmas is going to be about spending more time than money. It’s going to be about creating memories and keeping it simple and beautiful. Around our home there’s going to be more music, more contemplation, more companionship. There’s going to be less consumerism and more celebration. The birth of the Christ Child, the Savior of the world is taking center stage. And there’s going to be love — pure love. Just today I learned my grandchildren — instead of purchasing gifts — are going to write letters, poems or draw pictures for each other. That made me smile. Apparently, the change in my heart is hereditary, being felt by my children and their children.
Today I decorated our home. Many of my dozens of containers filled with decorations will stay in the closet this year. Our tree is covered with berries and there is a simple, wooden Nativity Set on the table in front of our picture window. I shed a few tears as I tenderly dusted it and carefully placed it on a bed of straw. It is — and always will be — a reminder that Christmas, if I reclaim it, is a time of peace, of joy — of miracles.