The face of Christmas is different things for different people.
For the Christian faith today is the day to celebrate the birthday of Jesus Christ, and the face of Christmas is an early 30’s man with shoulder length brown hair, soft eyes, and a crown of thorns upon his head.
For some it’s ‘Black Peter’ who accompanies Saint Nicholas on his journey dressed in colorful Renaissance attire and a curly wig perched upon his head.
In Russia and the Ukraine, it’s Ded Moroz, or Grampa Frost, who while he has a long white beard like the iconic Santa Claus, also dons a very ornate folklore-themed costume and carries a long white staff with him.
Today my husband, myself, and our two boys once again awoke before the sun rose and climbed into our own variation of Santa’s sleigh, a black Ford F150 pickup truck. The cargo bed of the truck was loaded with drawstring backpacks bearing the logo of our Christmas tradition project, Socks From Sally.
In 2014 we handed out gift bags to homeless citizens of Boston that contained warm gloves, hats, socks, scarves, and fleece blankets. Wanting to give the boys a better understanding of compassion for others and appreciation for what they have already and would receive on Christmas Day. We handed out roughly 20 bags that day, filled with our meager offerings.
2015 saw an outpouring of generosity from friends, family, and even strangers who loaded our mailbox and front steps with packages day after day filled with the same items we handed out last year. Thanks to the donations from others we augmented our own offering this year and put together 60 bags, each with 3 pair of socks this year, as well as the other items intended to help the homeless stay a bit warmer this winter – and provided sixty people each with an additional bag containing a turkey sandwich, granola bars, oranges, apples, and a juice box. Over half the bags also had gift cards to a local chain restaurant to obtain another hot food item later on.
The boys each brought their stockings with them in the ‘sleigh’ this year instead of opening them before we left to begin our work of handing out the bags we stuffed on Christmas Eve. They eagerly dug down to the toes of their stockings to pull out treat after treat, but the rest of their gifts, as well as our own, would have to wait until our task was completed.
This year unfolded a bit differently than last year. We returned to the same area of Boston that we handed out 20 bags last year in roughly 30 minutes. This year we drove (having so much to give out) the streets searching for the tell-tale signs of people who had spent the night in doorways and over warm grates. Thankfully this year is much warmer than last year was, although none of us wore a heavy coat last year either.
This year it took us two hours to hand out our 60 bags of warm clothing items and 60 bags of food. We drove through the financial district, around Boston Common, and even checked out Chinatown and the area around the District Courthouse. Eventually we wound up back at Boston Common with 12 or so bags left, and handed them all out before making our way home to dig into our own gifts.
The boys spent two hours giving to others before opening their own items in under twenty minutes. Not a complaint was heard. The younger boy, once his pile of loot was opened, and I asked him if he liked everything he got, even said, ‘Whatever I put on my list that Santa didn’t bring doesn’t matter – as long as we’re together.’
I grew up seeing the iconic Santa Claus as the face of Christmas. For the past several years that I’ve been lucky enough to be a parent, the face of Christmas has been excited little boys tearing open gift wrap and squealing with delight. Last year as well as this year, the face of Christmas has changed for me once again.
The face of Christmas is Greg, the homeless man who introduced himself and shook our hands, told us he has an education, and a thirteen year old son, but he just hit a bad patch.
It’s the early 20’s man sitting on Tremont Street who, when I was explaining that the bags with tape on the drawstring were for smaller sized hands and such (women’s sizes) and told me the early 20’s young woman with him was pregnant so larger sizes were good.
It’s the three Asian women who trotted across Boston Common park to catch us before we pulled away with smiles on their faces presumably after another night spent outdoors and grinned at us when we handed them two bags each.
It’s the two older gentlemen on benches near Park Street T-station who smiled broadly and said ‘God bless you’.
It’s the three men sitting on a rock wall on Boylston who smelled of pot so strongly there was risk of a contact high.
It’s the group of people who stood on one side of the fence around Boston Common as one of the boys and I put bags in as many hands as we could from the other side of the fence until there were no more bags to give.
It’s the man who came just a moment too late to receive a bag with the above-mentioned group, who said, ‘It’s okay; you all have wonderful hearts for what you’re doing.’
It’s the gentleman outside the convenience store at Haymarket Station who burst into sobs when I handed him the two bags and said ‘Merry Christmas’ and just nodded his head while continuing to sob when I put my hand on his shoulder and said ‘I hope this helps’.
The face of Christmas for me is a combination of all of these people, and something I saw from each and every one of them this morning as we drove through the streets of Boston for two hours. It’s what I saw in the contentment on the faces of two little boys after all their presents were opened, even if there was much less this year than the explosion of gifts our living room held last year, and who have not voiced even a hint of a complaint at getting ‘less’ this year….if they even really noticed.
It’s the understanding that seems to be settling into the mind of an easy to distract and over-stimulate nine year old boy that while all that stuff in the pretty paper thats now in shreds around your feet is great – it’s the people in the room with you and in your lives that really matter.
The face of Christmas is, for me, no longer what brought about the inception of this project last year when I had grown more than weary of the commercialism bombardment that seems to become more and more of a monster each year – inciting us to ‘show the people we love how much we love them by buying them______’. It’s something very different. It’s what I saw from people today, and what I feel for everyone who helped us do so much more this year than last. It’s what I feel for the two very special boys who are learning what compassion and sharing truly mean, and for the sleigh-driver who piloted us on our way this morning.
The face of Christmas is, for now and hopefully for the rest of my days, the face of Gratitude.
Merry Christmas to all.