Today I did a small favor for a friend. She did one for me too—a bigger one, in my opinion. Big or small, the favors got me thinking about Christmas.
We had this stupendous ice storm in Vermont on Saturday night and pretty much everybody in our corner of the Northeast Kingdom lost power, got it back, lost it again, and so on. This friend of mine lives on a high hill, over a bridge that crosses a creek. She couldn’t leave her house at first, because the road was blocked by a fallen transformer and a tree.
Just as another friend and I were hatching plans to hike water up to her house, this morning they opened the road. She still had no power or water, so I took her kids for a couple of hours and did her dishes. She gave me a bunch of her homegrown meat and forbid me to pay for it. “If you pay for it, I’m just going to go buy you something,” she said. “So don’t.” She left to do some long overdue errands and our kids played together like always; there were baths and bagels with cream cheese and Christmas books, and then she came to pick them up and we parted ways to get ready for our church services.
My in-laws who were visiting from out-of-town commented on how in keeping with the Christmas spirit it was to help each other out, which made me realize how little any of what happened between my friend and me actually had to do with Christmas, because we always do this. We’re often trading kids and food and time, and happily, with other friends who do the same. I’ve fortunately landed in a community here in the Green Mountains where such interchanges are quite common, making the fact that today was December 24th purely tangential—a coincidence, not a catalyst.
On Christmas we celebrate the birth of Jesus, deservedly, because it was a great beginning, a single event that in turn bore a lifetime. That birth grew into years of service and sacrifice, love that leapt past boundaries of race and class, hands laid on lepers and tables thrown over and food multiplied, water walked, heaven promised.
The birth was just the beginning. And the kindness, the generosity of spirit we associate with Christmas, should also be a simple beginning, a birth of something that lasts much longer. Imperfect as we all are, we can find a joy in serving one another that can sustain us well past December.
So when my in-laws remarked that the reciprocal kindness my friend and I shared was “what Christmas was all about,” I thought it was nice (they’re the type whose generosity runs all year round, after all), and perhaps it’s true, but forget Christmas! Forget one day a year. This is what life is all about. And how very blessed we are to live it.