Giving and sharing doesn't have to stop at Christmas

It came and going, going, gone.

You know: the Christmas season.

The gifts have been opened, the wrapping paper tossed into the fireplace for later combustion. Small parts to various toys already have been misplaced. A pile of clothing - too big or too small - has been set aside for return later. We've eaten too much of the "wrong" foods (and enjoyed every bite). The obligatory phone calls have been placed reconnecting us with family and friends across the continent. The celebrants have scattered to the TV room to watch "the game," to the kitchen to clean up, to the bedroom to nap.

Now what?

I mean, is that it? All that buildup - more than two months' worth - for a few moments of planned pandemonium and gourmet gorging? Did we miss something here?


Now I'm not going to rehash all those tired arguments about reclaiming the "real" or religious meaning of Christmas. Christmas long ago became a secular holiday. For many people it is not much more religious than Candles and Carols Service - and hopefully a short one at that.

But that's OK. Unlike that of certain retailers, the fate of Christianity does not depend upon the intensity of our Christmas commitment. It does seem to me, though, that there is another meaning to all this that we may miss in all the Christmas craziness. Let me tell you a story.

A few years ago I got to help chaperon a group of about 60 or so West suburban middle school students who journeyed downtown to a shelter for homeless families. The rear seats of their buses were crammed with Christmas presents; there was barely room for the passengers.

Each package had a name on it. The gifts had been personally chosen and wrapped for one of the children whose families were temporarily housed at the shelter.

As the gift giver and the gift receiver came together that evening, more than toys, games, and clothing were given. The room became filled with children talking, laughing, and playing together. Stereotypes were discarded. "Tough" kids cradled babies, "stuck-up" kids played with toddlers. Black, White, Arab, Asian, and Hispanic kids got all mixed up in games and activities and forgot to notice who was who.

It was just one short hour. But it had been so important to these middle school kids who had been preparing for it for more than a month. Actually, the older students who had participated last year had been anticipating their return to the shelter for more than a year. As one such student commented: "This is better than any present I ever got ... or ever could get!"

This story has nothing to do with solving the problem of homelessness, economic disparity between city and suburbs, or race relations. What it is about is a "meaning" to our Christmas celebration that is available to all of us.

You see, giving transforms us. It breaks down barriers. And it creates a bond between people that can change them forever.

Most of us know this. We feel it when we give or when we receive. Maybe with all the commercials and decorating and "only so many shopping days to Christmas" we just lose track of it.

It's really not all that hard to rediscover, though. Just ask those children who are even now remembering their transformation of a few days ago, and anticipating the chance to give again next year.

Now, in case you missed the opportunity this Christmas to experience the transforming power of giving, there is still time. At last count there were 364 additional days each year available to give. And there will certainly never be a shortage of people who need to receive.

Believe me, it will be better than any gift you ever got!

• Dr. Ken Potts is on the staff of Samaracare Counseling Center in Naperville and Downers Grove. He is the author of "Mix Don't Blend, A Guide to Dating, Engagement and Remarriage With Children."

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