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posted Dec 23, 2012, 1:55 PM by Fay Watson


By David A. Watson, Ph.D.



            For me, no other time of the year brings back memories of childhood more than the Christmas season.  I come from a large and remarkable family, one that really believes in gathering together for Christmas. When I say big, I mean this family is LARGE-eight boys and five girls, including my mom (the oldest of the 13 siblings).  I’m pleased to report that from these 13 came some 39 cousins, and now more than 30 (I’ve lost track, frankly) in the next generation.  Though I’m sure my parents came to dread the occasion, I always looked forward with great anticipation to going “over the river (the Embarras River-no kidding) and through the woods” to our grandparents house, either on Christmas day, or as close to it as possible.  This constituted an all-day affair, with cars parked up and down the block.

            What though, does Christmas mean, other than family get-togethers?  To me, the holiday season is about sharing what we have with others, and about demonstrating our concern for our fellow man.  I also believe it’s a time for celebration, especially this year when our sense of peace and security has been so shaken, by war and terror. 

Let me first share with you a few statistics relating to charitable giving here in the United States, courtesy of JustGive.org.  The average household donates just over $1000 per year to charity (roughly $3 per day), or about 2 % of income (its less in Texas).  On the other hand, more than three quarters of all giving comes from households.  In other words, people, not big corporations, do most of the donating.  The wealthier classes, contribute, true, but surprisingly, those in the very lowest socioeconomic grouping (i.e. people with incomes of less than $10,000 per year) give to charity at the highest rate (5.2%) (i.e. the U-shaped effect, sociologist call it).  Please don’t forget those you normally support at this time of year. 

            Giving can mean something other than just contributing money, however.  It can include donating something considerably more valuable, namely your time.  I have written recently about visiting nursing homes with our Cub/Boy Scouts during the Christmas holiday, and about how rewarding it was.  If we agree that being with family and friends is important to our sense of well-being during the holidays, then imagine the heartbreak of outliving your friends or being abandoned by your family (or even worse, both).  Please visit someone who is alone or incapacitated this year; it costs little, but its value is huge (to both of you).

            Charity is of the utmost importance, but celebration is good for the soul as well, I believe.  Yes, Christmas is a religious holiday, but its origins are much older even than Christianity.  The ancients knew that the winter solstice (the shortest day of the year) happens in late December, so they celebrated.  They rejoiced in the knowledge that they had survived the coldest and briefest days of the year with food enough to sustain them until another crop could be cultivated.  So they warmed themselves, ate, and sang songs surrounded by family.  In some ways we haven’t changed so very much, nor should we.

Getting back to the festivities of my boyhood, my brothers and I could always count on the three F’s-food, football, and free-for-alls with 50 other people (minimum—honest!) crammed into a two-story frame house of probably not more than 1500 square feet.  Though there was usually some sort of gift exchange, it was for me anticlimactic, because by then the younger crowd would have eaten, watched football on television, played football outside on the vacant lot next door (tackle, of course, followed by the inevitable shoving match), and eaten again.  Meanwhile, the television and the turkey would have worked their magic, knocking out the uncles like a hard left hook, so that when we kids burst back inside, bruised and bleeding, and with frosted noses they and our grandfather would awaken grumpily and seriously in need of coffee (and pie). 

I’ve been thinking about my giant family even more this year, because the matriarch and patriarch of our big and boisterous group are gone and the aunts,  uncles are growing old (me too) this year.  Never again am I likely to participate in such a warm (and crowded) family celebration.  Sure, there were arguments and hidden grudges, but there was also the one element I will never forget and fondly remember for all my life-love.  Merry Christmas to all my readers (this especially includes you, Rue and Watson clans!).