The holidays can be a very lonely time. Not everybody has family nearby, and some people are estranged from their relatives. Some folks have lost their families through death or divorce.
I used to take my family for granted. I think most young people do. As a teenager, my parents embarrassed me, and my brother and I could barely stand to be in the same room. The holidays seemed to exaggerate all our worst qualities. Then when I was in college, my mother passed away. I only realized after she was gone how much she did at Christmas. She chose all the gifts, mixed the punch (half cranberry juice, half Seven-Up), sent out all the cards, decorated the apartment, and made sure we made it to mass. We always opened our presents on Christmas Eve, because she knew that little kids can’t sleep for the anticipation, but also because she couldn’t wait either.
When my brother married and started his own family, I would spend the holidays with him. We used to drive his wife crazy by watching National Lampoon’s Animal House every year (Christmas Vacation hadn’t been released yet). By the time he had three little boys running around in diapers, I was working as a tour guide at Sea World. I usually had to work on all the major holidays. It wasn’t bad, because we had a good time behind-the-scenes with lots of food, and the park was very festive.
Twenty years ago, I moved to San Francisco. I don’t have any family here, and working in retail means it’s hard to get time off to travel south during the holidays. My brother and I no longer take spending Christmas together for granted. We don’t do it very often now, so when we do, it’s very special. Most years, I am a Christmas Stranger. A Christmas Stranger is the person that you may not know very well, but you invite them to join your celebration because otherwise they will be alone. I would much rather be the person doing the inviting, and once or twice I’ve had that privilege. One year I invited all the Australian interns from my job to come over, the ones who couldn’t fly home for the holidays. I made a terrible dinner (somehow I managed to make an entire meal of colorless food) but everyone was very kind about it.
I am grateful to all the folks who have taken me in for Christmas. Families tend to behave better with a stranger around, so perhaps a Christmas Stranger gives something important in return. I encourage you to take a look at the people around you—your co-workers, the people at your church, your friends—because we are surrounded by folks who are spending the holidays alone. Invite them to share Christmas with you. It’s one of the best gifts you can give, and you will be blessed.