It is hard to believe that the holiday season is once again upon us. It just seemed like yesterday that we were celebrating Halloween. Leaves have changed colors and the temperatures are becoming more chilling. Mount Snow opened the first weekend in November with nine trails ready for skiing.
The newspapers are already packed with holiday advertisements aimed at trying to convince you to spend money you don't have on things you don't need for people you can't stand!
The world would like to convince you that this time of year is more about spending money and buying things, rather than celebrating human connections, working on building and renewing relationships and reaching out to people in human, non-material ways.
These are not good economic times. Our once booming economy is slowly falling apart around us. As we approach this holiday season, a record number of people are losing their jobs and a growing number of people are losing their homes.
Addictive behaviors are escalating. Troubled teenagers are acting out exponentially. What can parents do? How do we stay the course and not get buried in the rubble of a narcissistic world?
It is so easy to get distracted by a world that is more consumed with keeping up with the Joneses, than with sustaining healthy, happy relationships. Healthy relationships are hard to come by. Maintaining healthy relationships is a challenge, even on a good day.
The holiday season really challenges one to think about what is most important in one's life. What do we really value? Why are those values important?
As we move rapidly into this year's holiday season, let us be mindful that this year's landscape is filled with additional stressors for many of our neighbors. The war in Iraq continues to take innocent lives and burden our economy. There are fewer human resources available this year for people at risk. Those that still exist are heavily burdened. Corruption and economic fraud seem to be escalating everywhere. Every day, we read another tragic story on how average, everyday people are being taken advantage of.
Despite this troubling landscape, wonderful things continue to happen in our midst. It is refreshing to see how many high school and college age students voluntarily get involved in various community service projects to help the needy. I have been amazed this holiday season to see how many students have initiated outreach projects on their own to benefit needy young people and families within their communities.
"Christmas Magic" continues to reach out to thousands of disadvantaged children in our county. This year they estimate their numbers will almost double from last year. This holiday outreach began more than a decade ago because a local dad wanted his children to appreciate the real meaning of Christmas and the holiday season.
What started as one father's Christmas tradition with his children has now developed into a sophisticated, comprehensive outreach to poor children, especially those living in shelters and group homes throughout our county. Its' founder, Charlie Russo, started this Christmas outreach to remind his children and their friends of the need to reach out to others. That simple outreach, which began with five brothers and sisters, now encompasses thousands of volunteers of all ages that collect and distribute thousands of presents to needy children around our county.
This simple initiative, which began on a Christmas Eve more than a dozen years ago, begins the day after Christmas organizing and collecting money for the following year. Needless to say, it is a local community outreach that is always looking for volunteers and financial support.
Most of our high schools, colleges and even our middle schools and elementary schools sponsor some kind of holiday drive for the poor and the needy. It is amazing to see that commitment on the part of so many of our young people during this time of year.
This time of year, we all tend to get caught in a frenzy of activity. As we prepare to celebrate the holidays, it is easy to get so busy and consumed with running around that we forget the real reason for this season. It doesn't matter what religious tradition you profess or what philosophy or ideology you subscribe to, Christmas and the holiday season is a universal time for giving thanks and thinking about the gift of family and the relationships we share.
It is also time to think about those not as blessed as we are. It's a time to think about broken relationships and how we might help heal them. It's a time to think about strengthening family life and other important relationships. It is probably a good time to take pause and think about our values and that which is most important to each of us.
The danger at this time of year is that we get lost in all the wrapping paper materialism and lose sight of the human touch that is so vital, but oftentimes missing in the lives of so many. It's so easy to hide behind gift giving and excuse ourselves from sharing a part of us with those around us.
There are so many charitable causes that need our time, talent and treasure. However, sometimes we need to recognize the need to share our time, our talent and our treasure with those closest to us. Too often, unintentionally throughout the year, we allow an invisible wall to develop between us. Sometimes, that wall gets so high and so thick that we don't even recognize the people we live with. It's almost as if we become anonymous strangers who share the same house, but have become so disconnected that our relationships with one another are almost non-existent.
The holiday season is an opportunity to strengthen family ties, reclaim family traditions and work on communicating and spending time with each other. It is much more important than all the packages we will spend countless hours on purchasing and wrapping.
Sometimes we do not realize how estranged we have become until we lose someone we love and care about. Unfortunately, then it is too late. The human tendency is to put off the difficult things of loving and living because they are too hard to face. Use this holiday season as an occasion to face those difficult challenges, realizing that tomorrow may not come.
Every holiday season, I think of a young person I met right before Christmas. He had been living on the streets for months. His parents were killed in a car accident. He had no extended family. Because of his age, fifteen, he was placed in foster care. It was a nightmare for him, so he ran. He sought shelter wherever he could find it. Oftentimes, he slept in abandoned buildings, junked cars or in the woods. JK was very untrusting, due to his horrific experience in foster care.
The Christmas our paths crossed, late November and December were bitter cold. He could no longer live outside. It had become unbearable. He moved into Hope House in the beginning of December. He was so grateful to be in a place that was warm, clean and caring.
Like most families, I asked those living in community what they wanted for Christmas. Our custom is to give them three small things. Needless to say, everything short of the kitchen sink was on their lists. I got to JK's card, there were only two requests. The first was a warm coat, since he had none. The other was a promise that he could live in Hope House for the next Christmas because since his parents died, he had never experienced the sense of family and caring that he now felt. For him, that was the greatest gift of all.
JK spent a number of Christmases with us. He went away to college and today is living, as he would say, "a wonderful life." Since he moved out, a Christmas does not pass that we don't receive a wrapped package from him for a young person in the house. The package is always a beautiful winter coat with a note that says "forever grateful for the gift of family that made all the difference in my life."