By contributor Faith Watson
When I was born three days before Christmas, the hospital nursing staff wrapped me up like a gift for my parents; I was brought to them inside a tiny stocking with a knit Santa hat on my head.
I was the perfect Christmas gift, a delight to the heart and a yearly reminder of baby Jesus, that Greatest Gift given the first Christmas.
Of course, my newborn-perfection faded as my humanity and selfishness became apparent. As a child, I remember fun birthday sledding parties with countless friends and presents…all for me. I remember one disappointing birthday being on the same day as an extended family Christmas gathering; I was unforgivingly irked that no one remembered to wish me a happy birthday until late evening.
I recall the often joint birthday-Christmas gifts. I even remember seriously considering “switching” my birthday celebration to my half birthday, in order to get better attention for my special day.
My birthday, too often, was soured by my own pouting and sulking when others didn’t focus on me, get me the right gift, or if I didn’t feel as loved as I thought I deserved. That same selfish attitude would often spill over and spoil my Christmas as well.
My happiness depended far too much on how well I felt others had loved me or didn’t.
Yet, as I grew up and experienced life, a common thread of truth found its way into my heart. True happiness is found in focusing on others instead of myself.
Now, don’t misunderstand me. We all long to be celebrated as special. We all need to feel loved. Most of us like receiving gifts, especially when it’s something we really want. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. Birthdays are a special day to celebrate, honor, and love.
Christmas is a wonderful time to give and receive presents. These times of celebration can and should be happy. The problem isn’t with the gifts, parties, feeling special, or wanting a happy life. The deeper issue is in the heart, and it’s common to all of us.
Self-focus can choke out joy faster than you can say Merry Christmas!
(Note: I know very well that holidays can be quite painful for many people. We all have our struggles, stresses, and grief that can easily diminish the joy of the season. I’m not minimizing those or asking you to pretend that everything is okay if it’s not. But, even in the midst of deep pain and stress, it is possible to think of others. And when we do, our hearts can experience the joy of giving.)
Choosing a joyful spirit can spread more cheer than any gift or party could provide. The key to developing a joyful spirit is simply to Focus on Others. Here’s a list of 25 simple things you can do to create memories, spread some cheer, and have fun (the important part is that these are to be done WITH or FOR OTHERS, not alone).
25 Things to do WITH others or FOR others
- Make homemade decorations (snowflakes, popcorn strings, paper chains, handprint ornaments)
- Bake Christmas cookies (Like this Gluten-Free Gingerbread Cut-Out Cookie recipe)
- Play in the snow
- Listen to (and better yet, dance to) Christmas music
- Go Christmas caroling
- Read Christmas books with young children
- Watch cheesy Hallmark Christmas specials, Charlie Brown Christmas and other Christmas cartoon classics
- Drive around to see the lights and decorations
- Go to a Christmas parade and other community holiday events
- Attend a live nativity, Christmas drama, or children’s Christmas program
- Pack a shoebox for Operation Christmas Child (plan ahead, this happens in November!)
- Sponsor a child or family in need – Angel Tree, Toys for Tots, or local charities
- Make cards or Christmas cookies to share with public service workers, random strangers, neighbors, or for places you frequent (more on that in this post: How to Show Gratitude to Public Service Workers This Christmas)
- Get a manger scene that kids can play with, and play with them
- Give money to the bell-ringer AND buy them something to eat or drink
- Spend time together with just the Christmas tree lights making the room glow with warmth
- Shovel sidewalks for neighbors
- Visit residents in a nursing home and give Christmas cards to the residents
- Make homemade and heartfelt gifts, like these adorable Easy DIY Coasters
- Start or join a “Pay it Forward” in a drive thru lane (pay for the customer behind you)
- Smile and say Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Have a Nice Day, or whatever greeting you want to say to spread some cheer
- Offer to babysit for a single mother and give her a gift certificate to go shopping or pamper herself
- Volunteer to help serve a holiday meal at a soup kitchen or shelter
- If you eat out during the holidays, give your server an outrageously large tip, even if they didn’t meet your standards
- Be the kind of person that you wish others would be to you…be a gift to others.
Sometimes it’s still fun to imagine that all the decorations, lights, music, and merry-making of the holidays are for my birthday. But instead of turning inward and wondering who will celebrate me this year, I simply celebrate each day by seeking to be a gift to others, and I find so much more happiness.
At Christmastime, it’s easy to get caught up in the materialism of giving gifts, the busyness of parties and gatherings, and the stressful frenzy of packing so much celebrating into a small window of time.
What if…this Christmas, instead of focusing on what we want, we focused on wrapping ourselves with a joyful and thankful spirit and gave more of ourselves?
What if we became a gift to others—through our words, our actions, our joy, and our caring for others?
Imagine the delight on people’s faces as we give of our joyful heart. Like the smiles of new parents holding the precious gift of a newborn baby. Like the smiles of the shepherds and the angels celebrating the gift of Love. Like the smiles of Joseph and Mary as they realized this Gift would change the world. We can too.