Walking around the city, everything reminds us that Christmas is coming: the lights, the trees, the gifts, the rush, the joy, the Christmas carols… This is a good time to give to others, especially those who are most in need. Everyone should have their own “NGO,” or something that they are focused on giving to. The other day at dinner with the family, I asked my kids what were their “NGOs.” All of us have a very busy schedule (high school, university, work, friends, parties, sports, trips…), but what about others? How are we giving of ourselves to the most needy? Sometimes we come across them in our daily lives, but others we have to go and find them.
Christmas time, time to give of ourselves, to remind ourselves to think about others. I have repeated it many times (and I’ll continue to do so, because there are many who still don’t understand), but one is happier the more they give to others. In life you have two options: either think about yourself or think about the person next to you. The world today tells us constantly to think about ourselves, but it’s far more rewarding to think first of others.
This year will be the first Christmas in our family without Chema. As with every year, we will go to Madrid to spend Christmas with his 90 year old mother and their family. We will decorate the table with special affection and we will prepare a simple but wonderful meal. Maybe it won’t feel the same and it will be hard to have our spirits lifted, but we will do our best. Chema won’t be physically beside me as he always was. Surely, there will be a few tears shed and wiped away.
I still remember how last Christmas, when he was already feeling really sick and the doctors being unable to figure out what was wrong, we jokingly told him “you’re the imaginary illness” (I think it’s from a comedy of Moliere). And he, in serious pain, replied “well, yes, now I’m going to be sick,” and he made a face that made all of us laugh. Then he started to sing “I am an imaginary illness, nothing is wrong with me, it’s all an invention of my imagination…” We couldn’t stop laughing, but now I look back and think that he must have been making a significant effort, because he was probably in a lot of pain nearing the final stages of his illness.
On Tuesday we got together and decorated the Nativity Scene in our house. You don’t know how lazy I was feeling and how little I wanted to do this. It was the kids who brought it up and said “nobody should make any commitments tonight with friends, we have to decorate together!” All of us love to prepare the Nativity Scene, decorate the house, and put up a tree… Every year we make some small improvement: one year we bought a well, another we bought some additional figurines… The kids often argue about where we should put the three kings and the shepherds: “the sheep is mine and the dog is yours,” “I want the rooster!”
The time of mourning is very real, but for the kids we have to make an effort, they deserve a Christmas with Jesus in the manger. How many times we discovered Chema praying and meditating beside Jesus in the manger that we have in our house, trying to understand how God became a child and was born in a manger beside a mule and an ox. He would gather the kids around and would show them the helpless baby Jesus.
These days we usually have a contest. We try and see how many times we say, “Come Lord Jesus,” and we say it each time we see a Christmas decoration, lights, or a manger with the baby Jesus. Amongst them they sometimes argue who is the first to see a Christmas decoration in a store or on someone’s balcony… And so they are repeating often during the Christmas season, “Come Lord Jesus,” preparing to have Jesus reborn once again in their hearts, which can sometimes be difficult… Teach us to forgive from the heart!
In one of my last conferences someone asked me how many gifts we receive at Christmas. The truth is, the best gift for my children has always been their siblings. In our house, each year we write a letter to the three Kings and ask for various things: toys, a book, clothes… And every 6th of January, the day of the Kings, my husband would take a bag and ask each of the kids which of their gifts they wanted to give to the kids that were most in need. We saw how even the youngest ones would often give up their toy, sometimes with tears in their eyes, but happy knowing that some child that didn’t receive any gifts during the holidays might now get one. We have to teach our children to be generous and especially how to give: to give their time, their money, and their things…
During these days we sometimes visit nursing homes as a family and sing Christmas carols. Sometimes we visit great aunts and uncles and grandparents as well as other members of our family. We are so lucky that every year we have Christmas where we can all grow in generosity together!