Loraine, a family friend, said when she was growing up in Vermont they would wake Christmas morning and search for their actual stockings, not those store-bought fancy ones. Inside, if it was a good year, there was usually an orange and some walnuts. They were thrilled to see it, and it always brought them joy.
Dottie, my dad’s wife, said they received much the same in her family, oranges and walnuts, but they would often be treated to one piece of candy.
My dad, however, said he really didn’t know what Christmas was. His mom was a single woman and they lived in a housing project. They were so poor that Christmas was just like any other day to him, he never received a gift. Wait, he tells me, one year he did get a new pair of jeans because of all the holes in the ones he wore every day.
My dad said he does remember one Christmas when some strangers showed up at their house with a big box of groceries and a smile.
Dad, Dottie and Loraine were all born in the years of the Great Depression and World War II. I suspect many others from that era share those experiences, when much of America had to sacrifice.
I asked them about their childhood Christmases last weekend. There was no bitterness about how little they received or how hard they had it growing up. Instead, they told me how much they appreciated the little they did receive.
Fast forward to my youth in the 1960s and ’70s and I was very lucky. There was never any worry that there would be gifts under the Christmas tree. I admit, I took it for granted. My parents spoiled us and I can’t recall a Christmas where I didn’t get what was on the top of my wish list.
I’m not sure I appreciated all they did for us as much as I should have.
Now that I’m older I see the next generation, and they might even be more spoiled. That’s not a criticism, it’s what every parent wishes, to make life easier for their children and grandchildren.
And it’s certainly not true for every family. I know some who have had a very easy life and yet they are the most polite, well-mannered people who appreciate every kindness afforded them and never act like it was expected.
I guess it depends on each family’s situation and how they were raised. But I have seen some who don’t have the appreciation that they probably should have.
Kids who were very much like me when I was young.
After talking to Loraine, Dottie and my dad, I realized that I was pretty clueless of the sacrifices others made on my behalf, and I had no idea how lucky I was. Thank you family for all the love and kindness you have shared.
On this Christmas Day I will try to be a person worthy of that kindness, and I vow never to take it for granted again.
And more importantly, I want to be as generous a person as you have been, even if it’s to someone who takes it for granted just like I did.
I can’t travel back to the 1930s and ’40s to make those Christmas experiences any better than they were, but I can try to make this Christmas, and all future ones special.
I hope you will get to spend time today with people you appreciate, and who appreciate you. Merry Christmas.
Email Ken Sain at firstname.lastname@example.org.