Merry belated Christmas to everyone (if that's your thing).
This year's Christmas column — a couple days after the official fact, mind you — is a reminder that the day and holiday season in general is not about what you get, but more about what you give.
As a kid, you think of Christmas as that magical day in which you race to the tree following what was likely a sleepless night, not-so-daintily tear apart neatly wrapped gifts in an effort to uncover that ball, doll or video game you've been waiting anxiously for since you penned that holiday wish list, then adjourn to a room to feverishly learn whether said toy was worth the begging and pleading you did in an effort to get it in the first place.
Then you quietly bemoan what you didn't get, stuff your face with traditional eats, and maybe begrudgingly pen a thank-you note or two (I know, those days are gone) before slipping into a post-Christmas depression as you realize you've got to wait a full calendar year before you do it all again.
That's likely not what was intended by the holiday, but as a kid, you're afforded certain rights by the laws of ignorance and as a result, you're excused.
Nonetheless, it's those gifts you received as a child, along with the memories and the coinciding feeling of getting them, that should further inspire your desire to give.
Gifts — or at least "good ones" — are often associated with money, and if you don't have much, there's an instinctual feeling that you've nothing to offer. But "real gifts," the ones that truly matter, give for longer than a moment, day or week, but endlessly through the intent that inspired them from the get-go. And they're free.
A compliment, a gesture, a helping hand are all inspirational.
A friendly smile, a timely thank you, an unexpected salutation towards a stranger — inspirational as well.
And in extreme situations: a meal, an old sweater or jacket you never wear, or simply a hug for someone who looks like they could really use one. These are all things that have value beyond the moment they're given, and in many cases, they can perpetuate a belief in something seemingly eroding by the day: compassion. And we could certainly use a little more of that these days.
In the movie "Pay it Forward," a young boy decides to do something nice for three strangers, asking nothing in return but for them to do the same. What starts as three isolated incidents snowballs into a movement that spreads like wildfire, spanning the country like one of those multi-level marketing schemes that seemingly only benefit the people who heard it before you. A movie, yes, but an idea that can be very real.
So this holiday season, I'm not asking you to do three things. I'm not even asking you to do something for a stranger. But what I am telling you is what such a gesture can mean to a person desperately — or even not so much — in need of just that. It might just make their moment, day or week, and may even inspire them to do the same for another down the road.
And that's a gift that can truly continue to give.