One from the archives,to get into the spirit of Christmas… ” A gift from the heart.”

As an adult, I think I’ve always had a bit of a love/hate relationship with Christmas.

Don’t get me wrong – I love the festive lights, the excitement of seeing my children enjoy the holidays, get-togethers and all the cooking…but I  really, really hate the commercialization, obligation and fake sentiment that also seems to have come to accompany the entire season. How did we, as a society, become so shallow and self-absorbed that what is for some, a very sacred time of year, has been reduced to how much you spend on gifts to prove your love or affection ? And what kind of gift is one given out of a feeling of forced obligation, rather than the spirit of love and generosity? Not one I want. Save your cash.

For me, gift giving has never been about how much the gift costs, but about what is special to the person receiving it, and the intent of the person giving it.  I would like to share a story with you that will always hold a very special place in my heart, and I hope, yours.

One Christmas in particular, I was lucky enough to be on the receiving end of a gift that came from the heart of someone I  must have known – but someone whose identity still remains a mystery over 10 years later.

It was  two years before I left my abusive ex- husband, and money was very tight. At the time he wasn’t working and I was the only income earner, and my credit cards were getting maxed out trying to keep the family afloat. I didn’t share how bad things were with anyone at work , or my friends, but those who cared obviously could see how hard I was trying to keep it all together.

 Looking  back at photos taken that year, the stress shows clearly on my face in every one. As most parents do, or have done, I  would always go without to make sure the kids had what they needed, but that year I was actually gluing the soles back onto my winter boots, and doubling up sweaters instead of buying a winter coat  to make sure Santa arrived Christmas morning.

Christmas did arrive on a cold Saturday morning, and the kids were not disappointed. They were playing with their presents when I finally moved around the house to open the curtains to a new day, and as I pulled back the drapes on my dining room window, I saw a basket on the railing of the patio fence outside.

Totally surprised, I grabbed my house coat and ran outside. There before me, nestled in the snow on the railing,was a brightly decorated basket with my name on it. I looked around, but could see no one. It had not been there long, because it remained untouched by the sparkling  diamond frost that covered every surface, and I could see fresh foot prints in my garden leading to the fence. In puzzled excitement, I ran back inside the house to see what it was, and who it was from.

I sat down alone at the dining room table, slowly taking in the lovely wrapping and ribbons. As I pulled back the tissue paper that encased the contents, the sweet smell of  satsuma mandarin orange wafted from the basket, hit my nostrils, and overwhelmed my battered soul.

 Inside, were three, jewel like bars of  soap from The Body Shop, in my favorite fragrance. I held each one in my hands as if they were the most precious gems, with tears trickling down my face, wondering who would do such a nice thing for me.I took every single piece of tissue paper out,looking for a clue, but there was no card; only a gift tag with my name written on it in handwriting I did not recognize.

Suddenly overwhelmed by the sheer grace of this most cherished gift, I ran outside again and looked around in the snow, thinking another card must have fallen off. I followed the footprints back to the curb where someone had obviously gotten back into their car, but nothing. No clues, no names, only me – standing there alone Christmas morning on the sidewalk in front of my house, oblivious to the curious stares of passers-by, in my natty old house coat and glued up boots, tears streaming down my face … happier in that cold moment than I had been in many, many years.

When I returned to work later that week, I asked everyone if they were my secret Santa, but no one  knew anything. From beneath lowered lids, I surreptitiously watched everyone go by my office for a look, a smile, something to indicate someone was keeping a secret from me… but nothing.

 To this day, I have no idea who was thinking of me in such a thoughtful way that Christmas. That one gift meant so much to me because I would never have spent money on something as frivolous as mandarin scented soaps for myself, and it helped me through what was a very tough time in my life. Just knowing that there was someone who cared enough to pay attention to something I had perhaps mentioned casually in conversation over coffee, someone who then took the time to  actually bring it over on an early Christmas morning… it left me with faith. It was an incredible act of selflessness and compassion on the part of the secret Santa.

 I didn’t use that soap for a long time, but kept it in my drawers.

When I was feeling hopeless, or having a particularly rough time with my ex, I would steal away upstairs – just for a moment – and sit on the edge of my bed to open the drawers where the soap was safely hidden. The fragrance of  satsuma mandarin would suddenly rise to envelop me ,flooding all my senses and it would always give me strength and hope to go on.

To them it was just nice soap, but to me it was everything.

 Everything.

The scent remains my favorite, symbolizing the will to go on,survival… and whenever I come across that scent again,even for the briefest moment, it again overwhelms my soul with joy. I still don’t spend money on things like that, although I suppose I could. I guess old habits die-hard.

And so, as we enter the season that has become so commercialized that we forget the true meaning behind the celebrations,I urge you to re-connect with your loved ones,your neighbours, and complete strangers, in the true spirit of  compassion and love. Forget about all the expectations of expensive gifts and costly parties, and show your love in another way.

Host a holiday potluck where everyone brings a dish that has particular significance among their family,and ask them to share that memory with all.

Toast the traditions of  our older generations that perhaps did not have the basic luxuries so many of us do, that we often take for granted.

Play secret Santa and give a gift from the heart – anonymously- to someone whom you know could really use it.

Everyone knows a person who is going through a rough time for one reason or another. Maybe they lost their job, maybe they are caring for a sick family member, or maybe they are just always struggling to get ahead. Christmas can be incredibly hard for those who are dealing with life’s troubles. Do something special for them,keep it secret and supply them with the same faith and hope and memories that I have. It doesn’t have to be costly, just from the heart. You  may never know what a simple gesture may mean to someone else.

But I do.

Peace everyone.

13 thoughts on “One from the archives,to get into the spirit of Christmas… ” A gift from the heart.”

  1. ron wilton

    Well Laila, you certainly took the wind out of my sails.
    I guess I better go and find somebody to be nice to.

    P.S.: Thank You and I hope you have another ‘wonderful’ Christmas moment this year.

    Like

    1. Laila

      I am so happy for you Kim. Hold him tight for me too, ok? You are making me cry now. Time is a most precious gift.Hugs to you, my friend, hugs to you.

      I’m glad Billy. Thank you for being you. : )

      Like

  2. Don F.

    Laila,
    I didn’t think my respect for you could possible grow but here we have it has just quadrupled!
    Thanks for these wonderful words, like a beautiful song I will never forget.
    My heartfelt wishes for you and yours this and every Christmas.

    This is one special lady folks they just don’t come any better!
    Don

    Like

  3. Leah

    Thank you Laila, this brings memories.

    The most precious gifts of Christmas aren’t the things that money buys, they’re gifts of the heart. Shortbread cookies and butter tarts that only your Mother made right, never to be duplicated…and hugs from family and friends that made you know “all will be right in the end.”

    The most precious gifts are those that sit at our table to join us for dinner – not just at Christmas – but all year through. Treasure them, every day, in every way. Take lots of photo’s. We may think we’ll remember those moments forever, but they are too soon gone – and our memories are jogged to remember the “little things” by those pictures many years later. It’s the little things that count.

    Merry Christmas Laila, to you and all of your family. May it be an extra special one this year.

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  4. Laila

    Hi Don, I’m glad you enjoyed. I have a feeling you would make a great secret Santa for someone.. : ) You are too kind,I’m no different from the rest of you, that is why we all get on so well!

    Leah, this is beautiful, and from you, so significant this year. You are right. We forget how precious even the most mundane things are in our daily lives, sometimes only to realise how special they are when their sudden absence calls to mind the past.

    When my grandfather passed,and we were all given instructions to select things of his to keep,my choices were deemed odd, but had great meaning to me, and always will. I took his suspenders, a white undershirt and his long johns. My grandfather was the only person I knew that wore suspenders and he had two pairs that must have been from the 60’s. He would wear them over his white undershirts, attached to his jeans, and then put a shirt or sweater overtop of them in winter, but in summer, it was the white tshirt style undershirt and suspenders… They still smelled like his Old Spice, and I kept them in a bag for years so, like the soap in the story above, I could take them out and the fragrance would make it seem like he was right there with me.

    It was a sad day when I finally took them out one day, only to realise the fragrance of Old Spice was no more… but just seeing the suspenders still makes me smile and remember all the things he did with them on.

    Like

  5. Thanks for this gift Laila. You have reminded me that a little self sacrifice can go a long way. From your piece I drew another conclusion that these two little girls beside me need to know.

    “Yes Laila there is a Santa Clause”

    Like

  6. Eva

    Thank You so much for sharing this, it was a wonderful way to start my day, as I have been wrestling with true meaning and obligation.

    My spirit has been lifted, and Your story has helped Me today more than You will know.
    Bless You and Your family

    Like

  7. Laila

    Thank you, Erik, and you know what? I might do that : )

    Eva, I am always happen to hear when someone has opened their heart and mind to my words, and found something to help them in whatever way you have. Follow your heart, and your instinct. You know what is right – inside you always have the answers to your own challenges. You sometimes just need a little nudge to get you there… : ) Thank you for your blessing, and may the same find their way to yours! Thank you, so much.

    Like

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