The true spirit of Christmas


Another Christmas has come and gone, and it seems to happen in an instant. After weeks of preparation, buying gifts, putting up decorations and arranging get togethers with various family factions, the next thing you know all that’s left is some crumpled wrapping paper, a stack of bills, and an expanded waistline.

Except for the memories.

For each of the 56 Christmases I have been alive, I have celebrated on Christmas Eve with my parents, all three of my siblings as they came along, and my paternal grandmother, Emma Mae Gilliland, at my parents’ home. There has been much to be thankful for each and every year, but if there was one thing I had to single out this year it would be that I was able to spend another Christmas Eve with my 98-year-old grandmother.

Grandma is not in the best of health these days, but somehow she managed to muster the strength to share a few hours with us this year on another Christmas Eve. How many people my age are so lucky, I’ve often wondered?

In one aspect, Christmas is a little different at the Gilliland household than it is at many other households. We do not believe in celebrating Christ’s birthday at Christmastime. Celebrating his life and resurrection is to be done on each and every Sunday, we were taught to believe.

I suppose that’s why we’ve always celebrated on Christmas Eve rather than Christmas Day. But that does mean that we cannot celebrate the spirit of the season.

Just about every year, as we gather around a Christmas tree overflowing with gifts, and before we tear into them, my Dad makes a comment something like this: “You better enjoy it this year kids, because it might not be this good next year.”

So far, that not so good year has never come.

We have been a fortunate family, with few tragedies, and have always had more than we really need. I have also wondered for many years how much of that is due to grandma Emma Mae’s prayerful vigilance over us.

From as early as I can remember, when the Gilliland family has gathered for Thanksgiving, grandma Emma Mae has presented each of us with a check for $50. In my youthful years that was a lot of money. The deal was that each of us was to go and pick out a gift of our choice with that money, then bring the gift back on Christmas Eve and show it to the rest of the family.

When I was really young, we – meaning my siblings and I – usually were coaxed into using the money for clothes we’d wear to church, or a coat, or something similar. But as we grew older and the family no longer had as much of a need for clothes, we used the money to buy something we desired.

Some years grandma took us, or at least some of her grandchildren, Christmas shopping. Spending a day at the mall with grandma was always special, even if we didn’t completely realize how much so at the time.

As the years passed grandma started giving us more. Many years years, in addition to the money, we’d also receive under garments and socks from grandma and grandpa Delbert on Christmas Eve. As the years passed it turned into the money, gift cards, and some other gift under the tree. This year we all received more than the usual cash allotment to spend on ourselves.

Grandma Emma Mae has always been the most giving person I know. When I was little my brother and I took turns mowing her yard and we were always paid more than the 15-minute job was worth. When my sons came of age they started mowing her yard. In recent years, when they’d finish the hour or so job of mowing, they’d come home with as much as $50 or $75, maybe more. They have tried to refuse, but you can see the hurt in her eyes when they do. So they take it and are thankful.

And that’s not to mention the money she has slipped them here and there, knowing that most kids can always use a little extra cash.

Grandma has always been that way. She did the same for me during my college days. More often than not it came at times when it was really needed, like somehow she knew, even though there was no natural way she could have. And she’s never stopped.

Now, I know it might sound like it, but it’s never really been about the money. It’s been a about a woman willing to give advice, or anything she had, to lighten the burden of others. And believe me, that extends far beyond her immediate family.

So, grandma, I am not alone when I tell you that I hope you know how much you mean to us. The gifts are nice, but it is the thought and the love that we know is behind them that reach deep inside us.

That’s the true spirit of Christmas.

Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or on Twitter @13gillilandj.

Jeff Gilliland Staff columnist Gilliland Staff columnist

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