The spirit of Christmas

Lessons from a man I never knew

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Over 50 years of ornaments--and countless memories from the people who gave them meaning.
Over 50 years of ornaments--and countless memories from the people who gave them meaning.

Maybe the new glasses have triggered the sentimental ball of mush I prefer to keep from most people (or at least I think I do). Maybe it’s because I’m inching closer to a milestone birthday. Maybe it’s because I’ve been listening to Christmas music all week. Or maybe it’s because I work six seconds from my bed, so I haven’t worn pants to the office since I got back from Australia. Relax HR friends. I wear shorts… as far as you know.

Whatever the catalyst, the people who really know me are familiar with the aforementioned mush. And they are the people I’m writing about. I call them my family, but not because we share blood or grew up in the same house. Not because I see them at weddings and funerals, when we profess to see each other more and then never do. As much as I wish I knew many of those people better, I’m afraid that ship may have sailed. I have fond feelings about them. I want them to be happy and have all the best life has to offer. I just don’t really know them very well. I grew up a different way, or maybe it was the same way. Who am I to say for certain?

I was raised by one of the more amazing people who ever breathed the air on this planet. Her lessons came in many forms, and nearly every one sunk in. She was also, by all accounts, one of the most religious people I ever met. That one didn’t stick, but she shared a spirit I’ll be forever thankful for—that of my grandfather. I feel like I learned a lot about how to be a human through his spirit (as translated by her). He died two years before I was born, but when I think about the person I want to be, I often conclude that I want to be someone he would have admired.

Gram always referred to him as “my Joe,” but not because she was laying claim on him. She didn’t consider him her possession—he was more an extension of her. And she of him. “My Joe” was a statement of inclusion, not exclusion. Of pride and affection. Of warmth and love. She shared both willingly, because she knew he would do the same if he were still alive. And because it’s who she was to her core.

When I brought people to meet her, she welcomed them with open arms. She loved them without question. Without condition. They instantly became part of her family. Because all she cared about was that I cared about them. If I loved them, it was good enough for her.

So, when I think of the spirit of Christmas, I think of that kind of family. The people in my life who expect nothing. The ones who don’t keep a ledger of all they think they’ve done for others because the only “thank you” they need is seeing people they love happy. The people who will drive my sorry ass nearly a thousand miles and endure the smell of beef jerky and bodies that had been in a car for 12 hours, all with a smile, because they wanted to be there for me at my brother’s funeral. The people who live down the street, across town, or across the country, but would be at my side before I hung up the phone if I called and said I needed them. The ones who have my back, even when they don’t agree with me. The ones who care enough to call me on my B.S. The people who know my heart and let me know theirs. The ones I don’t need to name because they aren’t looking for credit. And because they know who they are.

I’ve heard people say you can’t choose your family. I think you can. But even more importantly–even more special–are the people who choose you.

I want to take this moment to thank all of those people for choosing me. And for simply being themselves. It doesn’t matter how long it is between conversations, happy hours, or coffee. I feel your presence and support in my life every day. I don’t think I could ever do enough to express how grateful I am for all of you. And I’m so glad you’re the kind of people who don’t need an explicit acknowledgement to know what you mean to me. You are and will always be my family.

This is a time of year when lots of people like to talk about the true meaning of Christmas—”the reason for the season.” I firmly agree that Christmas isn’t about gifts or Hallmark movies or how much people spend on Black Friday. And I’m certainly not qualified to debate the religious undertones of anything. All I can say is that I try to be a simple person. So, I’m going to peel back the layers on this and just say that I feel the spirit of Christmas whenever I see a smile on the face of someone I love. I don’t care what month it is. I don’t have to be the cause of that smile. I don’t really even have to see it with my eyes. All I have to do is know it’s there with my heart. That’s the purest form of joy I can imagine. That’s Christmas to me.

How did I do, Gram?

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