The holidays were always a very special time for me growing up. I was blessed to be a part of a family that loved and valued each other, and opened their doors to friends and acquaintances at every opportunity. It was never even a question during the holidays – if you had nowhere to go you were coming with us. That’s the environment that taught me the spirit of the season, and I’ve tried to carry it with me down through the years.
My wife and I live in Chicago, Illinois where she works as a flight attendant for United Airlines and I run a Google Partner and Bing-Accredited full-service digital marketing agency, Lift Conversions. Our schedules keep us very busy, and in the early years of our marriage we made a conscious choice to forego having children. We wanted the freedom to travel and work the hours we felt we needed to in order to live the lifestyle we wanted – and to retire early (we can’t forget that part!). That left no time for children, so we have dogs instead. It’s a trade-off we’re comfortable with.
One of the disadvantages to having no children, and I really never saw this one coming, is the effect it has on your holidays. Presents are great, and our dogs love them, but when you have no kids you begin to realize that presents are just things you don’t really need wrapped in piles and piles of shredded garbage you have to clean up. When looked at like that, the idea of Christmas morning loses a bit of its luster.
Over the years, my wife and I have come up with several different ideas to combat this feeling around the holidays. We’ve volunteered, which was great but we never found the right “fit”, and we’ve tried travel to get away from it all, but it always felt like we were “forced-vacationing” which is about as much fun as it sounds. We basically tried everything we could think of until we finally hit upon the perfect thing to shake those Christmas blues and get back into the holiday spirit – feeding the hungry.
As I said, we had volunteered before, and while it was rewarding, it just wasn’t for us. There wasn’t enough interaction with the people we were helping. It was a fantastic organization doing great work, but we needed something more personal to fill our stocking. So, a few years ago, my wife spent the whole morning – after the dogs had their fun tearing into the new toys Santa brought them – making a hearty stew, and I filled bags with treats and fruit and water. We loaded the dogs into the car, and away we went to find some hungry Chicagoans!
We were surely quite the sight, me in my Santa hat and my wife in hers with our two huge dogs like reindeer in the back of the car. We drove from one corner to another handing out food and good wishes to those we could find who wanted something good to eat. Sadly, it didn’t take very long for us to be empty of food bags, but our spirits were filled with the season and its joys – all-in-all it was an excellent way to spend the day.
In fact, we enjoyed our day of feeding the hungry so much we decided to do it again the following Thanksgiving – and Christmas as well! It became our little family’s holiday tradition – my wife and I and our dogs. This year though, things have been a little different. My mother passed away in January, and I found myself not as into the coming holidays as I had always been. Not so strange having lost my mother, but odd indeed as everything else couldn’t be going better.
My agency has more clients than ever before, so many, in fact, that I had to bring on extra team members to handle the workload – which is excellent. One of my brothers has moved to the city to be a part of the company as well which has been very exciting. Yet, without my mother, I was unsure as to how I’d feel about the holidays this year; until they arrived. See, my employees and my wife, not to mention my dogs, were super excited. They all wanted to be a part of the giving tradition we had begun – and wouldn’t even hear of me not participating.
So, my staff joined us for coffee and conversation Christmas morning as the dogs made short work of their gifts. We then began the preparations for what we hoped would be our best year helping the hungry ever – while Christmas carols played throughout the house. We finished the enormous pots of soup and ladled a healthy portion into each container. The team took the bags and filled them with chocolate and pistachios, almonds and oranges, silverware and napkins, and a big bottle of water. We felt it represented a pretty good meal – equal parts good nutrition and indulgence. That’s what Christmas is about right?
We piled the party into the SUV (our version of a sleigh) and headed out into the cold, wet streets of Chicago looking for some people we could offer a meal. This is the absolute best part of the day for me – and everyone else as well I’d think – when you see the look of happiness spread across their face as you place something warm into their cold hands. It’s an incredibly powerful feeling that I recommend to each and every one of you. Really, you should give it a try.
This year, unlike years past, we encountered something else on our goodwill trip; something we did not expect. What could it be you ask? It was – and this is 100% true – competition! Yes, you heard me correctly. We actually were beat to the punch on multiple occasions, or would hand out bags while other cars handed them out on the other side of the same intersection! It was an amazing and heartwarming experience, seeing men and women and children of all ages out and about spending their holiday giving of themselves and their time and energy to try and make Chicago a little less gray for one special day of the year.
It was so inspiring to see, and moved all of us to do more and hope for bigger things in the year to come – for us and for those we wanted to help. There’s truly no better Christmas gift than being told by a homeless man that he’d already been given so much he wanted us to find another person who might still need it. That’s the essence of Christmas, my friends – and it can be yours all year long for nothing more than your time, your generosity, and your goodwill toward all men.