Christmas. From Thanksgiving weekend till December 25th, people around the world start to prepare for the great feast of Christmas. Unfortunately, this rather sacred, religious holy day has become a generic celebration of kindness and giving. This is not a bad thing; however, it's unfortunate that the celebration of Christ's birth is overshadowed. For those who believe in the religious significance of Christmas, it is a time to renew and celebrate one's faith. It is a time of genuine conversion and reconciliation. It is also a time when people of all different traditions take pause, give thanks and reach out with genuine love to others, especially those in need.
In recent years, the Dickens Festival in Port Jefferson has created a wonderful climate to begin celebrating the wonder of the season. This year I was especially struck by the warmth, hospitality and genuine kindness that came alive in our village. It was wonderful walking down Main Street and just observing the goodness of people.
The holiday season seems to bring out the best in people, no matter what their faith tradition. Even during these tough economic times, I am amazed at people's generosity. Right after Thanksgiving, more than 800 people gathered at Villa Lombardi's in Holbrook for Hope House Ministries' Annual Holiday Party. That event is their major fund raising activity for the year. People were exceptionally generous financially, but what was more refreshing was seeing the cross section of people from every religious tradition and social background within our larger community coming together. They gathered to celebrate a cause that reaches out to young people and families in crisis 365 days a year. Their energy and enthusiasm was contagious. The sense of community and compassion was overwhelming. So many people remarked how wonderful the event was and that it was a wonderful beginning to the holiday season.
Over the past few weeks, I have heard countless stories of people's phenomenal generosity with their time, talent and treasure. What has been touching about each of these stories is that each speaks of compassion and care for others that is driven by generosity of spirit and not looking for anything in return.
Christmas Magic is a wonderful program that touches thousands of children in need from around our larger community with Christmas presents. The miracle of Christmas Magic is not the thousands of gifts that are donated from every sector within our community, but rather the many hands and hearts that wrap and deliver those presents.
It is especially heartwarming to see the response of our young people to this program of giving. To see young people from all over our county come together around this initiative and work with one another is very powerful. To witness them in action when delivering the presents to our local children in need is overwhelming.
Recently, a group of young men from a community residence volunteered their time to help Christmas Magic's founder, Charlie Russo. After the young men finished working with him, he could not believe their tenderness and compassion for these children. He commented that one of his greatest Christmas gifts this year was to see this big, burly, young male adult on the floor with a little kid, helping him unwrap the presents that Santa Claus brought him and seeing the young man with tears in his eyes as he watched the little boy smile with joy as he opened his gifts.
A family from our larger community, who recently lost their home due to foreclosure, had a Christmas miracle thanks to an anonymous member of our community who heard of their plight. This family lost their home because of illness and the husband of the family was laid off from a very good job. They had no extended family or really close friends, so they fell far behind in their mortgage payments. They were new in the community, have three small children and were only getting to know their neighbors.
They were not looking forward to Christmas this year, because they weren't sure of where they were going to live and were afraid they would have no money to buy their children Christmas gifts.
When they thought all hope was lost, a neighbor knocked at the door and handed them a big envelope. The only thing the neighbor said was that someone asked if he would hand deliver an envelope to their door and he said yes. In the envelope was a Christmas card and a statement from their bank that their mortgage was paid in full until the end of December 2008. Also enclosed in the card was a check for $1000, so this family could celebrate Christmas with their children; it was signed "a grateful member of the community." The author of the note expressed how being able to help this wonderful family was his best Christmas gift ever and thanked them for the opportunity.
These are not easy days for many among us. It is refreshing to hear stories like this one because they further underscore what the real reason for this season is truly about.
Two weeks ago, I went to New York City to the steps of St. Patrick's Cathedral to film a Christmas special for Telecare cable TV, where I host a weekly television program. A good segment of the program consisted of interviewing random people coming in and out of St. Pat's and asking them about Christmas and what it means to them. People's responses were amazing. Many people young and old alike, made reference to Christmas as the birth of Christ, but went on to talk about how Christmas is a time for giving, caring, sharing, reaching out and letting people know they are valued and important.
Two young people from Dublin, Ireland who were here on holiday, agreed to chat with me. They were refreshing. They spoke about how Christmas has to be more than the materialism we see all over the television and in the newspapers. They said to them Christmas is about giving and caring for others, especially those less fortunate and those who have no one.
This holiday season, I have been especially struck by people's compassion and tenderheartedness. We tend to be so critical of young people and their social choices. It has been refreshing to see so many young people of high school and college age engaging in random acts of kindness and generosity during this holiday season.
Christmas time is about miracles and celebrating that a wonderful life is possible. Thanks to the many hands and hearts that bless our community, not just at Christmas time, but all year long.