By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez
Albeit my previous post on how dreadful 2016 has been in lieu of all the terrible events that have taken place around the world, as well as all the wonderful people we have lost, those who were famous and those who were known personally to us— with only a few hours left until the arrival of the New Year, it seems there’s still a tinge of hope left, in that I’m starting to really feel the giddiness and joy that this season is meant to bring.
While we can often make the mistake of getting extremely worked up and stressed out about the challenges of attempting to make the holidays as wonderful and nostalgic as we expect them to be—what, with the number of presents to hunt for, buy, and wrap; to the work of putting up a tree; decorating your house in minus-25-degrees-weather; to the Christmas cards to write, buy stamps for, and mail out; to the number of social events you are called to prioritize and juggle in an already busy schedule, plus the time you need to plan and create a fantastic Christmas breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner—the season can become overly commercialized with tired and trying traditions that create more stress than they do, rest, relaxation, or happiness that they’re meant to be.
It was the other day, for example, that my family and I had planned to take our annual, Christmas family photo.
Instead of simply changing into some new clothes and going downstairs to take a photograph, I had spent far too much time lamenting over which piece of clothing to choose not only for myself, but also for my husband and my children, debating over whether or not we should coordinate our clothes, decide on a Christmas theme, wear winter colours, choose colours that won’t unnecessarily clash with each other or our backdrop, or whether or not we should dress up formally or dress down in only our pyjamas. On top of that, I couldn’t find clothes, that in my mind, worked. Most of the clothes that I had in mind were either in the hamper to be washed, too small to wear, or simply nowhere to be found, as in missing, nowhere, nada, gone.
Needless to say, something inside me just broke down. The stress of the holidays finally imploded into a hot mess of tears and a pile of mismatched clothing. I had become a Scrooge in my quest to pose for happiness. And if we had gone through with it, I would have made my husband and two children utterly miserable in the process.
But, my husband in his kind and tender wisdom held me close and said, “If it’s not fun or it doesn’t make us happy, let’s not do it. It’s okay. We don’t have to.”
And I knew he had meant it for more than just the family photograph or any Christmas tradition that we’ve upheld for a number of years. He meant it as a token of wisdom we could apply to ourselves, our life choices, our perspective and decisions as a family.
If the act of doing something causes more distress than it does joy, should we not give ourselves an alternative and seriously consider why we do what we do in the first place, and choose whether or not to continue?
He not only held me, calmed my anxiety, but also did a wonderful thing in telling me what he did: he released me from the obligation of traditions we’ve held in the past and reminded me of the value and significance of the journey one takes to meet an end result.
Success isn’t deemed on end results alone. True success is measured by life choices, which stem from good character, integrity, kindness, and love—the good stuff, the true gold.
The true value of Christmas does not rest in the consumerism, nor superficiality that sometimes people so often fall prey to during the season.
It’s not the cost of the gift, nor the shine of the wrapper, nor the boast of the fattest turkey and largest potluck dinner on the table. And it certainly isn’t about the clothes one chooses to wear, or the pictures that are taken to be posted on Instagram or Facebook later to commemorate your way of celebration. Nor is it about the number of gifts you receive nor the number of parties you’re invited to or choose to attend. And it certainly isn’t about how tall your Christmas tree is or how brightly your house is decorated.
The joy of Christmas particularly for Christians, originated from the joy of discovering the prophecy of the birth of Jesus—the Saviour, the King of Kings, the One who reigns on earth and in heaven—to actually come to pass.
And while most do not celebrate Christmas at all or Christmas from a Christian perspective, even so, the act of kindness, generosity, and love still rings true for many people during this season.
In the last two weeks leading up to Christmas, I have had a number of surprising things happen to me that helped restore my faith in humankind and remind me of the joy one can feel during the holiday season and also the joy one can create for others:
First, I had won four different book and film giveaways in a span of a week because of the generous spirit of publishing houses, book bloggers, and film enthusiasts:
- I won my choice of a book from The Book Depository of up to $10 from the With Love of Books blog. I was privileged to be able to choose the novel, Nocturnal Animals by Austin Wright, a book I’ve been excited to add to my book collection and read before I go and see the movie in theatres.
- I won a copy of A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket from Savvy Reader on Twitter and look forward to joining in on the scheduled Twitter chat on January 13, 2017. Winning this novel is certainly not an unfortunate event, but ironically a beginning to what seems to be good ones.
- I also won a multi-book giveaway from The Pop Culture Rainman blog, which includes the books: Canada by Mike Meyers, The Best Kind of People by Zoe Whithall, Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen, The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer, and Shoe Dog by Phil Knight, a collection of books that I look forward to enjoying over the holidays.
- And then I won advance screening VIP tickets from The Reel Roundup to see the movie, A Monster Calls, in Toronto on January 4, 2017, featuring actors: Liam Neeson, Felicity Jones, Sigourney Weaver, and Lewis Macdougall.
And if that wasn’t enough to bring on the cheer of the holidays, an anonymous customer at my favourite Starbucks home location (Queen & Main in Brampton) bought a gift card of an undisclosed amount and asked the barista on staff to pay for everyone behind her until the money on the card runs out.
I happened to be one of the lucky few to be in that lineup and personally enjoyed a grande Pike with four shots of Praline & Chestnut syrup, courtesy of this anonymous customer’s generosity. I was not only pleasantly surprised, but touched to be able to experience first-hand what it is to be blessed by someone’s random act of kindness. It was an especially delicious tasting coffee that morning.
On another day, I was asked by a frequent patron of the same Starbucks location, if I was expected to return to the coffee shop the next day. I said, yes, I had planned on returning, as was my usual routine.
The next day, during my stay at the coffee shop, the patron who I have had a number of conversations with during my visits to Starbucks and who I now consider one of my Starbucks friends, arrived unexpectedly with a Christmas card and a gift for me!
The thoughtfulness of this act was not only that we had not agreed on a gift exchange, nor did I truly expect anything from him, but that he had taken the time to write out in beautiful penmanship a lovely message in the Christmas card he gave me, as well as lug that heavy present with him all the way to the coffee shop, walking through the cold and the snow.
While he insisted that it was a small gift, to me, it was his genuine thoughtfulness that made the gift so touching.
What was the gift, you wonder? Hah! A large tin (2kg) of chocolate bicuits—to go with my daily Starbucks coffee!
But, the unexpected blessings did not end there.
The barista staff at my favourite Starbucks location—yes, on Queen & Main—presented me with a lovely Christmas card and a free drink!
Hey, it may not seem like much, but do you know how many stars I have to earn as a Gold Member to get a free food item or drink from Starbucks?!? 125 stars!!!
And because of the love from my Starbucks family at Queen & Main, those 125 stars fell from the Starbucks sky right into my coffee-loving lap.
Thank you, Hanh, Kat, Andrea, Ashley, Ryan, Karolina, Rona, Moe, et al. Thank you, most of all, for remembering my name, and knowing exactly what I love to order each and every time I come in to visit, and for making my drink exactly the way I like it.
On an entirely different trip to the coffee shop, I was given a $10 Starbucks gift card from another anonymous customer and was told that this was the way in which he/she was paying it forward.
How blessed I was to be at the receiving end of these random acts of kindness.
Christmas, itself, was an intimate celebration with family at my sister’s house. We had a traditional, potluck dinner, drank some wine, shared latest news, and laughed at our silliness (whether or not this was due more to the drink than our own conversation, I’m not quite sure). Overall, we had a good time.
And every Christmas Eve, we have an opportunity to see and spend time with family members we might not otherwise see that often. While the entirety of the Clan wasn’t with us this holiday, we were still able to celebrate with the gusto my family is well-known for.
And, of course, the children enjoyed their favourite part of Christmas—opening their presents.
However it is that you celebrate the holidays, I hope it is filled with opportunities to spend time with loved ones, to enjoy an abundance of food and drink, and to be blessed with gifts of the season—especially books!
How did you celebrate the holidays?
What was your favourite part of the holidays?