It takes a team but begins with a single gesture

It was an old African proverb that first said, in its own language, “It takes a village to raise a child.”
The exact origin of that phrase seems lost in time, but many writers have borrowed it. I would take it one step further and say it takes an entire tribe to stretch its arms around those in need at Christmas.
As I age, my Christmas melancholy and worry increases proportionately. I wonder about those who “have not” at this time of year.
The consumerism of the holidays drives me mad—the advertisements for iPads and iPhones and ridiculously expensive goods, while there are those who struggle to have enough to eat and warm clothes to wear, is so unbalanced.
When my daughters were little, Christmas seemed so much simpler than now. Gift-giving was all about tracing around hands and melting crayons for stained-glass pictures, and making audio tapes of little fingers on the piano and angelic voices wishing a “Merry Christmas” to those my girls loved.
I shall forever hear Samantha sing “Laat it snow, laat it snow, laat it snow” interrupted by an “I have to pee.” One couldn’t mess with such perfection, and the tape was sent “as is.”
Back then it was okay to have a big tree in public places and it wasn’t necessary to adjust our greetings to be inclusive, when the greeting already was meant to include anyone and everyone, was the very nature of its intent, regardless of religious denomination.
Christmas was about music and cookies, specifically my mother’s shortbread with green and red bits of candied cherries on top. It was Perry Como crooning from the record player and telling me of “The Night Before Christmas” as I lay under the tree with its soft lights, in the dark and wondering, not about gifts, but about something bigger than me—an elusive image of hope; a searching that made me quiet and thoughtful.
As children, my siblings and I did well at Christmas. We were lucky, not just because of what we found under the tree, but for family and music and laughter, for tobogganing down the hills on our farm and my mom’s cocoa, for all of it.
But Christmas can be a hard time for people, both financially and emotionally. Our losses of those we loved feel fresher and the wound deeper at Christmas. Our failures seem more obvious and poignant; our shortcomings louder.
We are willing to drop change in the Salvation Army kettles and take food to the food bank. Most of us try to do our part to ease the burden of poverty at this time of year. I think about the homeless and the children who have little sense of family, of those in nursing homes who are forgotten and alone.
And I wonder what exactly is it that I do this time of year especially, but all year long, to consider those who do without.
What if we all took a stand; said that this year we were going to reinvent Christmas. Instead of wrapping up chocolates and bubble bath and CDs, we would wrap up promises.
I promise to smile today to at least six faces that look sullen or lost or angry. I promise to thank the teller at the bank and the cash register girl who has been on her feet for hours at a low-paying job. I promise to let cars out of the parking lot when the stream of traffic looks endless behind me.
I promise to touch the hand of a homeless person as I drop some money into his cup, and not give a second thought as to where he will spend that money. I promise to carry the parcels of an older person when she looks over-burdened and then I’ll ask her something about herself, invite a story.
I promise to sweep off the car next to me in the parking lot; scrape off the ice and snow just because.
We can’t hold others accountable or responsible for matters of caring, of fair treatment, of sharing.
It takes a team, a tribe, but it begins with a single gesture.

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