The Spirit of Christmas

by Matt | 1 Year Sabbatical on December 23, 2010

The Spirit of ChristmasIt’s so easy to let the spirit of Christmas escape your grasp, to give in to the consumerism and advertising and become jaded and angry.

I remember as a child always anticipating this time of year.  First, we got 2 weeks off from school.  Secondly, we got presents.  As a family we would go out and get the Christmas tree, bring it home and decorate it.  Then we’d stay up late on Christmas Eve drinking hot chocolate and listening to Christmas songs around the warmth and glow of the wood stove.  Christmas morning would find all us kids awake at the crack of dawn and peering into the living room at the tree; gazing in awe at the wealth of wrapped gifts that adorned beneath.  We’d grab our stuffed stockings and build up an incredible sugar high as we waited for Mom and Dad to wake up and stumble groggily into the room so we could open presents.

However, for the past several years the glamour and that indescribable “special” feeling of Christmas seems to have faded away.  I started to notice that the Christmas decorations were put up in the stores just a bit earlier every year.  Christmas changed.  Or maybe Christmas remained the same and it was me that changed, or rather my perspective.  Or maybe the world changed.  I don’t know but whatever happened I didn’t like it.  There was too much consumerism and marketing for my taste.  I began to sour on Christmas and no longer looked forward to it.

The past several years have been difficult.  I haven’t felt the Christmas spirit which forced me to try and fake it for my kids.  It’s also a sobering time of remembrance of the passing away of my grandmother who departed this world on December 22nd 2005 at the age of 97.  Every Christmas she would bake this incredible variety of cookies.  I’ll never forget those tasty treats.  My favorite was white chocolate covered pretzels. 

The spirit of Christmas is so much more than just one day a year.

Since starting this blog and beginning to plan this sabbatical adventure I’ve had the great honor and privilege to get to know some incredible people who are doing some pretty cool things.  Friendships have been built and I am truly thankful for the connections that have been made.  This holiday season I’ve come to realize that Christmas is so much more than just one day a year.  Maybe I’ve realized this all along but have only been reminded of it yet again.

Last night I was watching the A Christmas Carol (the one with Patrick Stewart not George C. Scott) and reached the part where Scrooge is shown his own gravestone and comes to realize the true meaning of Christmas.  He says:

I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.”

It’s not about how we live our lives for one sacred day of the year.  It’s how we choose to live our lives each and every day.  So in honor of Christmas I wanted to highlight a few people/organizations that I’ve become aware of recently and the great things they are doing.

The first is Doug Mendel who runs the Douglas Mendel Cambodian Relief Fund.  Doug is a former volunteer firefighter who visited Cambodia in 1997, fell in love with the place and saw a particular need that he knew he could fill.  Doug donates firefighting equipment to fire stations in Cambodia.  He’s even shipped a donated fire truck to Sihanoukville Cambodia!  All donations allow firefighters in Cambodia to do their jobs in a safer and more proud manner.

Recently I had a comment on this blog from Judy Alvarez who currently works in the Peace Corp in Guatemala in the Healthy Homes Program.   Judy recently posted an article on the problem of frequent illness (among other things) and often serious burns from wood burning cooking stoves and the prolonged exposure of families to smoke and open flame.  The implementation of improved wood burning stoves can change a family’s life for generations by reducing disease and death from acute respiratory infections.  Life expectancy improves an average of 10-15 years per family member.  It also uses less wood which is good for the environment and the deforestation taking place.  Check out her blog and the work she is doing.

Many of you are probably familiar with the charity that Chris Guillebeau works with called Charity:Water which brings clean water wells to impoverished villages around the world.  100% of publicly donated money goes to the water projects.  Did you know that almost 1 billion people do not have access to clean and safe drinking water?  Contaminated water results in 80% of all diseases and results in more deaths worldwide than all forms of violence including war.  I think the war we should be fighting is the war to get access to clean water for every person in the world.

My good friend Mark Powers of Powers Percussion recently started The Donating Drummer to let his music give back to the community.  Each month readers can submit an application that answers the question of “What would you do with $X dollars?”  Mark then takes his earnings from one gig, performance or recording to fund his favorite submission.  He announced the winner for December earlier in the month.  I think this is just a fantastic way to take something you love doing and give back in a unique and interesting way.

Finally we really like the organization Doctors Without Borders which is an International and humanitarian organization working in over 60 countries.  They provide medical care to victims of war and disasters regardless of race religion and politics.  I can’t think of a better cause to support.

The fact is there are many individuals and organizations out there that are making a real difference in the world on a daily basis.  I often wonder if I am doing enough to make a true contribution or have I been more like Scrooge was before he had his spirit induced epiphany?

The power of one individual is enormous.

Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, said “To do good, you actually have to do something.”  The power of one individual is enormous.  Just look at people like Doug, Judy and Mark to see what one person can do.  This Christmas let’s vow to share our unique and special powers with others not just on Christmas day, but throughout the year. 

From our family to your family we wish you a very Merry Christmas wherever you may be and wherever your travels may take you.

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