The Selfless Christmas Stocking

                               SOPHIA - 10


Synopsis:  In a world riddled with Terrorism and its threats of “fear,” “intimidation” and “complacency,” what is the best way to explain the “Spirit Of Christmas” to two little children?   In this story, G-Ma Lori elects to use a “selfless Christmas stocking” as her guide to understanding.  It is a story passed down to her from another generation, one that she hopes will be passed down again and again so that “courage,” “conviction,” and “action” will replace Terrorism’s piece of “black coal” for her grandchildren, and all the children of any religion or spiritual belief.

G-Ma Lori

       “G-Ma, will Santa bring presents to Baby Jesus on Christmas?  Does Mary put a Christmas stocking out for Him so Santa will fill it with toys?”  Matt, my precocious five-year-old grandson, asked the questions as though he were a pitching machine set on fast speed.  He was playing with the family’s small, wooden crèche with his sister, Sarah, two years younger than he.
      After a pause so I could collect my thoughts, I responded. I wanted to make my answers to his questions universal.  Christmas was about the “spirit of giving,” as well as a religious celebration.  I wanted to emphasize both, and not exclude any religious or spiritual belief. 
         “Matt, Jesus is God’s gift to the world.  That’s what Christians believe. He is every Christian's Christmas present.  He brings a renewal of hope to those of us who believe in Him.  Santa is one of God’s helpers. He brings gifts to boys and girls who have been more good than bad all year long.  Sometimes the gifts aren’t necessarily what the children want and ask Santa for, and often they are what they need.”
        I took a deep breath.   I realized I had opened myself up to major questioning.  Religion is always fragile territory, but I felt comfortable knowing my daughter and her husband abided by basic Christian ethics, so I wasn’t dodging any bullets.  However, I was just wary about Matt’s ability to pound question after question at me, and whether I could answer them to his satisfaction.

      “But, G-Ma, does Santa fill Baby Jesus’ sock?  You didn’t say.  You didn’t answer what I really wanted to know.” Matt’s forehead scrunched so that his young face appeared much older. His blue eyes challenged mine.   Matt’s eyes, were in part, mine.  I passed my blue-eye genes to my brown-eyed daughter, Matt’s mother.  Even though recessive, the genes were inherited and combined with Matt’s Daddy’s blue-green eyes.  So, I am forever reminded of a spark of myself when I look at him--especially when his blue orbs flash mischief or anger.

      He continued,  “You didn’t answer what I really wanted to know.”  He was like a hungry dog, voraciously digging until he located his ­­bone of “right information” and devoured it.

      “Well, Matt, I’ll try to tell you what I think Jesus receives at Christmas time.” I picked up the extra Christmas stocking Matt’s mother hung up each year.  Unlike the ornate festive red and white socks, it was plain; made from brown burlap. No frills for Jesus’ sock, I thought.

      “We place special gifts in this stocking, Matt and Sarah.  The presents we can give to Jesus are the good deeds we do for others and the nice words we say to others.  Can either of you think of a gift you could place in Jesus’ sock?” I smiled at my little ones who looked at me in puzzlement.

       After a few moments, Sarah broke the silence. “I know, I know, G-Ma, I know,” she yelled.  Her eyes were deep brown, representing my husband’s dominant genes. “Candy, G-Ma, we fill Jesus’ sock with M&M’s.” Sarah’s chocolate eyes widened gleefully.  She wasn’t as adversarial as Matt was, quite the contrary in fact.  She was into conciliatory conversation rather than combative information.  Of course, Matt’s grandfather on his father’s side is a retired attorney, a litigator, so his drilling questions must also be genetic, I pondered.  

      “Sarah, Sarah, we are ‘sposed to put good deeds in the sock for Jesus, not candy!”  Matt assumed the patriarchal role with his sister.  Then, he turned to me quickly; his eyes shining as though a bright light bulb had ignited behind them.  “I get it, G-Ma. That’s what that sock is for that Mommy hung up – the scraggly one.  She told us it was Jesus’ sock…” he paused, doing one of his Colombo bits where he looks at the sock and then to me, then back to the sock…”but I thought Santa filled it up, not Sarah and me.”

      His blond head nodded excitedly, and his blue eyes ignited.  He was already a wise little man.  He could be competition for the Magi--the three wise men who traditionally honor Jesus and bring Him gifts.  As I prepared my answer, I thought about his parents and their view of Christmas—as I best understood it.

      Matt’s and Sarah’s parents, in my opinion, are Parents of Vigilance.  They are constantly reinforcing the spiritual side of life to their children—replacing the children’s fears with belief.   They arm them with shields of Love and Caring.  They toughen their insides so that those who might prey on the weak or vulnerable will have great difficulty demeaning or intimidating their children.
      The belief in Christmas was part of that toughening of the “inner self.”  I wondered if other kids were as fortunate as my grandchildren to know both sides of Christmas – the spiritual and the commercial. As a Grandparent of Vigilance, I was available to answer Matt’s questions.  I hoped other grandparents were as involved with their grandkids
        I also knew silence leaves kids vulnerable.  If parents neglect sharing the spirituality of the season, commercialized Christmas rushes in to fill the vacuum.  Tinsel, trees, toys override the crucial conversation about what Jesus means to the world on Christians. 

 On Hanukkah I had explained the Jewish beliefs.  And for the upcoming Kwanza, I will explain the African beliefs.  Spiritual knowledge enriches a child, especially that which was part of the child’s family beliefs.  In our case, as Christians, it is Jesus.

      “Remember, Matt and Sarah, other families have different beliefs and customs.  When G-Ma told you stories of traditions in her childhood, do you remember how I showed you pictures and we spoke of how and why other families worship.”

      “Oh, yes, G-Ma. I know about Kwana.  My teacher talked about Kwana. And my friend Jason brought a dreidel to play with at yard time. What’s his Christmas called again, G-Ma?”


      I lovingly patted his head and chuckled.  “Oh Matt, Kwan-ZA…Kwan-ZA. And I’m glad you remember what your teacher and I told you. Jason and his family and other Jewish families celebrate the Festival of Lights. That’s so cool that your friend shared an important symbol of his holiday with you at school.”

      In the light of the recent horrific events, crisis shares center stage with celebration.  I knew how important it was to balance the “horror” with the “beauty” of the season.  Grandparents and parents are the key source of balance for a child, and I wanted to be as vigilant as possible to share we parents and grandparents should also be vigilant and share the real significance of Christmas with the kids by including other religions. September 11th had brought America together.   It crossed ethnic and religious barriers, allowing a great opportunity to respect and appreciate other kinds of beliefs under one flag.  After all, America was about diversity, and Christmas was about seeing “love and peace” in everything.  A key to that diversity is helping a child see how and why others worship.  I thought that the more the kids understand the importance of their own spiritual connections, the more they could accept and tolerate others who may believe differently than they.  Religious and spiritual tolerance, I thought, is one of the most meaningful and wonderful gifts one can give a child.

      “G-Ma, it’s okay to think a lot about what Santa will bring us, isn’t it?” Matt asked the question with a bit of temerity, treading lightly so he wouldn’t get the “piece of black coal” we often joked about for those children who were selfish..  “Jesus won’t be angry if we want presents from Santa, will He?”

      I kneeled down to be at ‘kid level’ and hugged both my elves tightly.  “Of course not, I’m only telling you how to really understand what this Holiday Season is really about; how we think of both elements, or parts, of Christmas - the birth of Jesus and the visit and gifts from Santa Claus as well.”

      I thought of Matt’s comment earlier in the afternoon as Sarah and I were walking him home from his Kindergarten class.  Matt skipped along per his usual energetic self, then stopped, turned to face me, and made me a proud grandma one more time with his incisive knowledge and sharp intellect about considering others in his life.

      “G-Ma, how many more days until Christmas? Sarah, help me count the days.  I’ll start… today is Wednesday and…..Sarah?  Matt pointed to his best friend and playmate.

      “Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday…” Sarah rattled off the all the days of the week not at all what Matt had asked.

      “GGRRRRRRUHHHHH, Sarah, I’ll say the days and you count them on your fingers.  Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday and then Christmas day.  So, Sarah, how many days…uh…fingers did you use to count the days?”  Matt was trying to be patient with his little sister who just recently learned the days of the week from her G-Ma.

     Sarah held up six fingers and yelled “Six, Matt, Six days ‘till Christmas.”  She began to try to dance around me while holding on to my hand

      Matt whooped with glee. “Wow, G-Ma, only six more days... until ... Jesus is born.  And we can celebrate His birthday.”  Matt jumped and tugged at my hand so hard I felt my muscles strain. Sarah was caught up in the elation and began to jump too.

      “Matt, dear little man, G-Ma is so very proud of you.  A lot of children who are five and older would be more excited at Santa Claus’s visit on Christmas Eve or Day, than the birth of Jesus.  I’m going to tell your mommy and daddy what you said.”  I knew his parents would be more than proud.  This was yet another example of Matt’s and Sarah’s parents being Parents of Vigilance.  They had passed on to Matt, and perhaps Sarah, the true meaning of Christmas--selflessness.   The “true religions” promote selflessness as the key to humility.   Putting others first, or important things foremost, made me proud.   And I knew Christianity was only one of many religions that preached that same gospel.

       “Matt, let’s sit on the park bench for a few minutes and I’ll tell you the story I was told when I was a little girl about Santa Claus.”  The three of us sat comfortably on one of the benches near the playground at Tompkins’s Square Park after I checked it for bird droppings. Lately, I had been victimized by being the target of flying and roosting bird poop.   One bird hit my hair with a “bird bomb” and another splattered my glasses.  I was very “bird vigilant.” I began to share the story of Santa Claus told to me by my Aunt Minnie... a…long…time…ago. Aunt Minnie had raised my mother, and was, in many ways, more like my grandmother than an aunt.  She had given me the precious gift of the story I was about to pass on to my grandchildren.  I felt her presence with us on the park bench.

      “Once upon a time there was a little boy named Nicholas.  Nicholas’ best friend was Jesus.  Nicholas’ parents taught him about Jesus who was sent into the world by God as a baby on the first Christmas.”

      “Jesus was born in a stable, right G-Ma,” interrupted Matt, “…in Bethlehem” he continued, “….under a big, bright star.”

      “Correct, Matt. You remember what happened.  Let me tell you what happened next to Nicholas.  Nicholas prayed every night to Jesus to help him to do what was right.  He prayed so hard he promised Jesus he would do ‘God’s work.”

      “Nicholas was a good boy, right, G-Ma,” interjected Sarah, her eyes sparkling with excitement.

      “Yes, he was.  And when he grew up, he was still good and always helped others and taught others about Jesus.  Nicholas loved children and played with them.  Children loved and trusted him.  His town picked him to be a Bishop and he often helped the poor.  He would toss gold coins down their chimney in the middle of the night.”

      “I get it, G-Ma,” Matt stated… “… so that’s where Santa got his idea of coming down the chimneys.” I smiled.  The kids were deep in the story.

      “Bishop Nicholas spent his life serving God and his people.  The story goes that when Nicholas was very old, baby Jesus appeared to him and said he’d been so good he could be with Him…with Jesus… in Heaven.”

      “Was he dead, G-Ma?  Was he?”  Sarah’s mouth started to tremble and a pool of tears began to form.  She, along with Matt, was gifted with her mother’s soft, vulnerable heart.

      “No, Sarah, Jesus performed one of His miracles.  Since Nicholas wanted to continue to help children, Jesus said he could look after all the children in the world until the end of time.  On one special night of the year he could bring the love of baby Jesus to all those who celebrate His birth.  And, they called him Saint Nicholas.  His job was to remind people who believed that Jesus is the greatest gift to the world.  So, my little elves the real reason Santa comes on Christmas Eve is to remind everyone Jesus is God’s gift to us, and, He wants children to pass on that love to everyone, everywhere.”    I felt good about the story.  It was a near-perfect replica of the one Aunt Minnie had told me over five decades ago.

      “My Daddy read me a story like that G-Ma.”  Matt sat up and gave me that “I-know-everything” looks of his.  “The little boy Nicholas is really Saint Nicholas and Saint Nicholas is really Santa Claus right, G-Ma,” Matt gulped and took a big breath.  He has a memory like a computer chip and rattles off the information as efficiently as the search engine

      “Why, you should be telling me the story, Professor Matt,” I playfully poked him in his ‘no-tummy’ tummy. 
          “But I will tell you that St. Nicholas lived in the 4th Century – that means more than seventeen hundred years ago.  He was the Bishop of Myra in Asia Minor. As you might know, Matt, or expect, he is the Patron Saint of Children.  Sarah, that means St. Nicholas is the special Saint children can pray to.  His name was transformed, or changed by the Dutch people to Sinter Klaas and finally to……..”.    I paused for one of my audience to fill in the blank.

       “Santa Claus! Santa Claus,” shrieked Sarah.  “Our Santa Claus,” she sang gleefully.

      “Both of you little people are too smart for me.”  I shrugged my shoulders and made my face into a smile.  “You guessed the end of my story, Sarah!   And Matt, you almost told me the whole story.  Well, anyway, we had fun sitting on the park bench, comfy and cozy, and enjoying the good company.”  I put an arm around each of my precious angels and hugged them close.  I was one more time learning from them as well as reaffirming the real meaning of Christmas.  I smiled to myself as I thought of them as Children of Vigilance.  They were learning how to think.   A Child of Vigilance is taught how to think for themselves, how to see the answers rather than know them, or be spoon-fed them.   So many children grow up blaming others for their lives because they never had the chance to learn to think for themselves, to take responsibility for their reasoning process.   Figuring out what Christmas was really all about was as much an exercise in thinking as it was in history.

      We slowly arose from the bench and meandered toward home.  As we walked, I tried to shed one more spotlight on the meaning of Christmas.

      “Dear ones, there is so much emphasis on partying, gift giving and getting things, that the reason for celebrating Christmas is often lost.  Christmas is a wonderful opportunity to acknowledge friendships and show appreciation…”

      “G-Ma,” Matt interrupted me. “I showed I ‘preciate my teacher, Ms. McMahon, ‘cuz we gave her a Christmas ornament for her tree.”

      “Me, too,” Sarah piped in, “I gave my teachers ornaments, too. Me, too.”

      “Yes, and your gifts were very much enjoyed,  I’m sure.  It’s fine to show your teachers you think they are good teachers, and you like them. 

 But, what I’m trying to share with you is that learning and thinking about the birth of Jesus, or for those who are not Christian, the celebration of Hanukkah or Kwanza, is more meaningful than exchanging gifts and Santa Claus or Saint Nicholas fill your stocking.  Your teachers are more appreciative I’m sure when both of you are trying your best and act appropriately.  Respect is one of the great gifts you can give another person—even if they don’t believe in what you believe—you respect their right to believe.”
       “Yeah,” Matt said, “this one boy said he didn’t believe in Santa.  Or Christmas.   And nobody got mad at him.   Like, is that respect, G-Ma.”
       “Yes, that’s the idea, Matt.”

      As we entered their apartment, both Matt and Sarah ran to get crayons and paper.

      “What are you two elves up to,” I asked. “Don’t forget Matt, after you relax and maybe hear or tell a story, it’s homework time,” I reminded.  “And, of course, Sarah, you have G-Ma school work to do too, if you want.”

      “G-Ma, Sarah and I are coloring a special picture for Jesus,” Matt looked at me as if I were a way-not-so-cool-outta-da-loop grandma. 

      “We’re giving Jesus presents in His Christmas stocking,” he said with his face buried over the paper as his and Sarah’s crayolas began to bring to life what was locked in their minds…”like you said to us at the park, G-Ma.” Sarah also looked at me as though I should have unwrapped their thoughts and known what they were doing before they did it. 
         “How do you write ‘Merry Christmas, Jesus’,” she frowned.  She already had drawn a semblance of a crèche and was coloring it.

      I watched proudly as my loving little ones wrestled with each other to be the first to put their drawings in Jesus’ plain, burlap sock.

      “G-Ma, mommy says we are going to give some special gifts to some kids who don’t have mommies and daddies because the crash of the Towers.  Some of the toys are ones we get from Santa.  Jesus and Santa will like that, won’t they?”  He nodded his head, assured that my answer didn’t really matter.  He had reasoned out his own answer—giving was good—selflessness was good.   I didn’t have to answer.
        Sarah wasn’t going to be left out.  But as a three-year-old, she had just a little different take on giving away her toys.      “G-Ma,” she said, “My Mommy says we help other people and share toys with them.” She frowned as she continued. “I hope if I get a dolly from Santa, I won’t have to give it away.”
        “No, you won’t Sarah,” I said.  “You get to choose which present you would like to share with someone.   Do you think of all the presents you get, you’ll be able to find something you’d like to share with another little girl that may not get many things for Christmas?”
         Sarah turned and smiled.  “Yes, G-Ma.  And, I’ll give her a big hug too.  That will be the best present, right G-Ma?”

         Sarah didn’t wait for my answer either.  She and Matt returned to the burlap stocking, deciding to move their drawings around so it would be just a little easier for Baby Jesus to get them out without a struggle.
          Then I realized the best present I would get for Christmas was the one both the kids gave me  all year long—lots of hugs and loves.  


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