The True Meaning of the Holiday

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Sometimes I can still feel, hear and smell my childhood Christmas memories.

The way my fuzzy pajamas wrapped tightly around my feet, snuggling me.

The soft steps of my parents as they crept downstairs, gifts teetering, threatening to crash and create a pile of Matchbox cars, Golden Books, bike tassels and ornaments picked out just for us.

The clinking of plate against countertop, Santa's cookies ready for pickup.

The hushed whispers and near-silent expletives as my parents assembled trikes, Big Wheels, furniture and anything else that came with directions written in 17 languages.

The beating of my heart, fast-paced and relentless, refusing to let slumber replace excitement.

The soft forehead kiss I pretended to sleep through as my parents made their way back to their room, hoping for at least an hour's sleep before Brett and I sandwiched them in bed.

The race to the Christmas tree. My parents hollering for us to be careful and not kill each other.

The moment we turned the corner and saw gifts piled under a tree that the night before offered only a can of gourmet popcorn and gifts my parents received from work or neighbors.

The Chipmunks singing as we tore through package after package while Mom faithfully wrote down who gave us what so we could write thank-you notes before the holidays were over.

The smell of apple pancakes wafting into the living room as we bagged up the wrapping paper littering the living room floor.

The hundred times my dad set the self-timer to take a family portrait because my brother made some stupid face. Again.

The feeling of comfort. Contentment. Happiness.

As an adult, I still wish every day was Christmas Day.

Not because of the material gifts. But because being with family is a gift.

-- Heather Fitz, Fredericksburg

Christmas Compassion

Early last Christmas morning, I noticed a young woman in our neighborhood, clearly having some sort of crisis. We've heard horror stories of violent acts and mental illness, and even I reacted by ushering the children indoors. But after my initial reaction of fear, I imagined how difficult Christmas must be for her. I watched with sadness as two Alexandria police officers talked and walked with her before calling EMS for support.

Two very important stereotypes were broken that morning.

First, the young woman did not appear to be violent and certainly wasn't a weapon-wielding beast, as some first believe when they see someone having a breakdown or psychotic episode. She was simply lost and confused. The second Christmas surprise came in watching the two police officers. At a time when law enforcement is frequently tainted with stories of brutality or even just ambivalence, these officers broke both stereotypes with kind words and actions.

Not only did they keep a situation from escalating, but they gave this young woman the respect and dignity that all human beings deserve. Their kindness and compassion was a wonderful reminder of the true essence of Christmas and an inspiration for us all.

-- Denise Raybon, Alexandria

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