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Christmas Compassion: Reflections From the Holidays

by Cameron Karsten Dec 31, 2007

The holiday season. It arrives with festivities and departs with similar flair. Goodbye…and please do not return until next year.

Christmas has always been about family, yet in the same context, Christmas has been about the spirit of giving-in many different ways.

When I say giving, I am referring to a scale of giving; from honest care to its’ opposite, or shall we say mass consumption and the hoards of consumers, entering shops and browsing online catalogs with as deep or as shallow of pockets permissible.

This holiday season I experienced both worlds, but fortunately, there was a choice, and on the family side of things we removed ourselves from ritualistic spending and nonsensical wasting of resources. Instead, we decided to give back, both with thought and action.

There is a way to find balance. With the Christmas spirit, it is to be thoughtful in all one gives and possibly volunteer for those less fortunate.

The Corporate Holiday

Spending the fall and winter seasons in the midst of corporate America did not elevate my excitement for the holidays. Whether it was the exhausting rush of Thanksgiving sales, the merciless orgy of Black Friday, to the final week before Christmas, I clocked my hours at Seattle’s REI Flagship store as a snow-sports specialist.

The retail world roundabout the holiday season: I came, I went, and I shall never return.

I sold snowboards, packaging the hard-goods with boots and bindings to push a 10% discount. I rearranged, organized and picked up after customers in the helmets and goggles department where plastic and cardboard boxes splayed across shelves. I answered phones, ordered unavailable products, put others on hold, and directed individuals to their desirous locales, pointing at signs clearly posted but apparently lost to the sights of shoppers too cluttered to notice.

The retail world roundabout the holiday season: I came, I went, and I shall never return.

Likewise, for a month straight I heard Christmas carols echoing from the wooden rafters. From Michael Bolton to Alvin & The Chipmunks and way back with Doctor Demento-they bounced off nuts and bolts, across metal air ducts and through vast open spaces.

My head spun with cheesy saxophones and piercing voices and jangling bells, along with the questions, services, projects, areas to tidy, customers to greet. Influenced by this madness, the idea of Christmas was appalling. And yet I still needed to shop.

Therefore, my hours were minimal. Having lived the false spirit of Christmas via retail with maddened shoppers who believe the higher the price, the more love received, the more gratitude awarded-I went homegrown.

Back Home

The best gift is one with heart and soul. It is a gift with thought, personalized with the flavor of the giver and the appetite of the receiver. Since youth, my mother has reminded me: “The best gift is one made by you and your imagination alone.”

“The best gift is one made by you and your imagination alone.”

So I lived the consumption at work, and in the end I quit, giving my two weeks notice long before December 25th arrived. I had to leave.

Back home I spurred my imagination into creativity, thinking of family and friends, lovers near and lovers far. I mended my Grinch-filled spirit so as not to steal away the blessings of Christmas and I designed my own gifts.

I wrote poetry and prose. I concocted a blend of organic hot cocoa mix, baked sweet yummy banana-carob goodness bread, and shared music to continue the dance of life. In essence, I stayed away from the money-frenzied Western culture and supplied the core of Christmas giving with my own two hands and my own open mind, combining their creativity into one.

Assuaged from corporate nightmares, the spirit of Christmas was born again.

A Spiritual Rebirth

Morning arrived: December 25th, 2007. All shopping ceased. All those long lists of desires, wants and dreams shortened until tomorrow, next week, the year’s resolutions.

Yet, nestled within a small home, my family and I drank tea and coffee as we sat on the couch and watched two dogs bound upon one other. There was no Christmas tree. There were no lights, no stuffed Santa Clauses, no ornaments and no scents of cinnamon, nutmeg or cloves from fresh batches of Egg Nog.

There was only family and the call within each of our hearts to reunite from our individual lives and be near each other. The sun rose, and shortly we were off.

What truly rings clear not only during the holidays, but every day, is that spirit of sharing. Having so much, granted the ability to experience many things, there comes an alignment within oneself to give back and actively show appreciation.

As a family, we wanted to share our energies with those most in need.

To emerge from the bubble of one’s single-track lifestyle and share oneself with others less fortunate is the best gift, not only to give to those asking for help, but to oneself as well.

Coming Full Circle

At 9:30 Christmas morning we unloaded and stepped into a large grassy park in southern California. The sun was shining, the air comfortable with a short breeze, and all around were hundreds of volunteers busily organizing themselves and preparing for the annual Christmas feed.

Stepping up to the volunteer table, we presented ourselves and set to work in the spirit of giving, one not of monetary means, clothes, jewelry or cars, but simply of our time, our concern and our compassion.

We filled and tied balloons. We decorated. Others set up chairs and tables, cones for lines, stalls of beverages, collected donations of food and carved slices of honey ham. Yams were plentiful, as were the pies, peas and sweet corn. Cars drove up and provided more food, more gifts and more love.

The spirit of giving-a true Christmas-was alive and well.

From the wastelands of consumerism to the return of Christmas and the spirit of giving, sharing, and gratitude. The holiday season can come full circle, traveling through the polar opposites of living and the joys and pains it can bring.

With all things in life, in each moment, there are choices to be made, and whether from motherly advice or individual participation, the holiday season can be one of humble creativity and compassionate giving.

As members of the human family, we all have to learn to cherish each other; this includes ourselves as well as those nearest to, and farthest from, our circle of understanding.

Come again, sweet holidays, and bring with you the joy of giving, the gratitude of receiving, and the spirit of sharing.

Cameron Karsten writes spiritual and health travel columns for Brave New Traveler. He left his formal classroom studies to indulge in dreams of travel at 19 years old, and has been wandering ever since. Visit his personal website.

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