When I was a kid, I didn't realize the many blessings in my life. The economy in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s wasn't the greatest. My dad was laid off from the glass factory, and often there was still "too much month at the end of the money." Many times my parents struggled just to try and make ends meet, sacrificed much so that my sister and I could have more, and they never complained. Yet, looking back, these times, when things seemed the worst, are the days that shaped my outlook on life the most, and they are the ones I am the most thankful for. These include, the times that I returned to school after Christmas Break and greatly exaggerated what Santa had delivered, just so people wouldn't know I was poor. Also, the year we heard the knock on the back door on Christmas Eve, when the weather was far too bad to trek the 12 miles to Midnight Mass, running to the door and finding no one there, just a box of clothes, food, a red Nerf football, and a card signed only, "Santa."
Years later, I met an older volunteer at our local library, who seemed to have few friends and even less worldly possessions. She had undergone surgery for brain cancer at a very young age, perhaps 8 or 9, was hospitalized and had surgery just before Christmas. When her mother came to her hospital room and asked what she wanted for Christmas, she asked only for a toothbrush, so that she could brush her teeth. It became a tradition that every Christmas her mother placed a toothbrush under the tree. When her mother died, her father continued the tradition. I met her shortly before her father passed away, and one day close to Christmas she seemed very very sad. I asked what was wrong, and she shared the toothbrush story with me. She shared, too, that this was to be the first Christmas she would not be getting a toothbrush on Christmas since she was a little girl. However, she had been mistaken, and for the remainder of her life, she never went without a toothbrush. She always received a creatively wrapped package, sometimes large and sometimes small, with a toothbrush and of course a card, from Santa, just like the one my family had received that snowy Christmas so many years ago. My children always looked forward to their turn to sneak the package up to her second story deck on our way home after Midnight Mass. I pray that they will look back on this tradition and find ways to bring joy to others.
I encourage you in the Advent and Christmas seasons, and in the upcoming Year of Mercy, to find small ways to make a great difference. It doesn't cost a lot, often nothing, to make a huge impact on someone's life.