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A Christmas Outside the Box
By Nikki R., SNN Editor, Grade 12, Roncalli Central High, Port Saunders, NL

There we were, all 30 of us sitting around the tree, enjoying fruitcake and reminiscing about Christmas past. The tree's lights reflected off the younger children's faces, enhancing the expression of enjoyment that came from the golden moment we were sharing as Christmas music gracefully floated through the air and we all sang along in our subconscious. My jolly old uncle (whose physical appearances did not fail to resemble those of the traditional Santa) sported the suit of red, and his comforting chuckle harmonized with each musical note that echoed off the adults wine glasses. Despite the presence of several entities that are associated with this holiday, it was not Christmas. It wasn't even December! It was July.

This summer, as my mother's family traveled from separate regions across our country, to congregate in Hawkes Bay, Newfoundland and Labrador for Come Home Year festivities. It was the first time in fifteen years that I was able to be in each of their treasured presence at the same time. Our family spent fifteen years wishing each other Merry Christmas over the phone, not being able to greet each other at the door on Christmas morning or sit down to a turkey dinner together. To celebrate our long awaited reunion, my mother and I secretly planned to have a "Christmas in July." Although a single day of holiday cheer could never compensate for all the Christmases spent in the absence of family, the joy and love exchanged on that day glossed the memories we would cherish with a warmth that no faceless phone conversation could ever bring.

As we listened attentively to each individual's stories, which never failed to mention the regret of our absence, there was such a strong feeling of...something. That 'something' was so profoundly associated with our 'Christmas' holiday, and was so real, yet there didn't seem to be a word for it coined in our vocabulary. At least not until my sixteen year cousin's story of her previous holiday season not only named this feeling but also altered our perception of Christmas forever.

During the final days leading up to Christmas, my cousin's life wasn't occupied with the last minute Christmas shopping for family and friends, but packing duffel bags for a trip she and her family were to take over the Christmas holidays. In my cousin's bag there were the usual toiletries of soap and shampoo, but strangely, a unusually large quantity of it. To add to the strangeness of this, the occupants of her suitcase excluded more than the required outfits (which is an obvious indication of abnormality when done by a teenage girl), and her thirteen year-old brother packed enough soccer shoes for his entire peewee team! The answer to this peculiarity? The destination on my cousin's plane ticket did not read some exotic comforting place like Hawaii or Jamaica, but Guatemala. Her family had chose to sacrifice their comforting home and traditional holiday feast to travel to a third world country with the intention of bringing food, gifts, and most importantly, love and joy to 5,000 children who had designated a dumpster as their home, and fought the crows for the few scraps of food that were discarded there.

Although our whole family was aware and touched by their humane actions, a first-hand account of my cousin's experience brought the rest of our family, myself included, a gift that not even jolly Old St. Nick's most treasured wares could compare to. A lump developed in nearly every one of our throats as she brought us into a world where Christmas didn't mean a competition for gifts or money, only for love and attention.

Each day they presented the children and the few adults that also inhabited the area with different items that would not only strengthen their emotional state but also their physical condition. As my cousins and their parents handed out food, toys, vitamins, and even worm pills, the sheer contentment conveyed by the children was so overwhelming that each day concluded with laughter, tears, and an internal feeling that holds a description beyond words.

The lump became harder to swallow, and an unexpected rush of gratitude erupted from us all as my uncle contributed to the touching story by telling us of an 80-year-old woman whom they gave a pair of shoes to. These shoes were the first pair to ever be placed on her feet. The elderly woman laughed at the thought that this was her first pair of shoes in eighty years, and cried in utter happiness and the disbelief that individuals could be so compassionate and sincere. Finally, my aunt joined in to tell us of how a million dollars could never conjure up the delight displayed from those attention-starved children when her son played a simple game of soccer with them, allowing them to have the shoes he had collected from his soccer team who had outgrown them.

As they finished their story it was evident that their, and many of our Christmas memories would no longer be occupied with visions of sugar plums or the reindeer that guided Santa's way. It was of love and pain, and the desire to bring more and less respectively to those whose memories were never of candy or reindeer. Then, it was at that moment that the indescribable feeling lost its nameless description. It was a feeling of the true meaning of Christmas. I could never associate this with that singular feeling because, although I had caught a glimpse of this pure meaning during the annual food and toy drives, it was not until then that I became acquainted with a meaning of Christmas that was free of the tarnish placed on it by gifts and greed. The feeling, I recognized, was derived from the presence of loved ones and a desire to give to others when all you want in return is a smile of happiness or an expression of contentment. Then I suddenly realized, Christmas is not a date near the end of the year or a time to get that toy fire truck or Barbie you absolutely "needed." Christmas is a feeling that you get in times of extreme love and joy, brought to us by the birth of an amazing being, and it can be experienced anytime, anywhere, whether it's in December or July, Canada or Guatemala.


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