The year of the new decorations was especially significant; it was the first Christmas we had after our family changed our traditional way of celebrating the holidays. When they were 14 and 16, my daughters successfully persuaded me to give all of the money that we would have spent on Christmas to the poor. Oddly, I resisted at first, not because I thought it was a bad idea, but because I couldn’t imagine a Christmas morning without gifts under the tree. Once we changed our way of celebrating the holiday, it seemed that the tree and decorations became less important. It was okay for everything that was familiar to stay tucked away in the chaos of storage.
More than a decade has passed, my daughters are grown, but I am drawn now more than ever to finding ways to give to the poor and tend to the lonely, rather than how to decorate the house. I ask friends and family to give me the gift of time rather than something purchased at the mall. I like to believe most people want things that money can’t buy. The story about the year I bought all new decorations used to be amusing, but not anymore. I now look back at it for the lesson it taught me. The money I spent on new decorations could have been better spent on making someone’s life just a little easier, and that would have been more consistent with how our family intended to celebrate Christmas.
The year of the readymade tree, a friend told a story about a woman who wrote to Mother Teresa asking if she could join her in Calcutta to help with her work. As the story goes, Mother Teresa responded by saying there was no need for the woman to travel so far to help the poor, she said that we each have our own Calcutta right in front of us – we just need to look around and we will clearly see the poor, the lonely, the homeless, and the hungry who need us as much as those in Calcutta needed Mother Teresa.
Now, instead of taking too much time decorating a perfect tree or hunting for ornaments, I make the effort to find what needs to be done to help those around me during the Christmas season. I think it’s important to be intentional about how we celebrate the season. Calcutta really is all around us. What Mother Teresa said was true – maybe more so now than ever.