Reprinted with permission from www.todayschristianwoman.com
The Ageless Christmas Project
A fun and easy way to bring lasting giggly joy to someone who feels alone.
by Debbie Jansen
When I was a young adult, every Christmas included a time to “share joy” with the residents of our local nursing homes. I was startled one year, though, when I overheard a resident talking with a friend.
“I don’t like this one time attempt to take us back to the fun of Christmas in a three minute visit,” she said. “Don’t they know the feeling is gone once they leave the room? That we’re lonely?”
That comment bothered me for years. Then after my children grew up and moved away, I felt some of that loneliness too—especially during the holidays. And I discovered many of my older friends had the same experiences. Precious women who lived states away from immediate family, struggling widows and spiritual mentors were suffering during this season of joy.
Christmas should be a holiday that celebrates families. As our world becomes more mobile, families are often torn apart and spread over thousands of miles. Some estimates suggest that more than 25 percent of Americans feel depressed or lonely. Most of those figures come from disjointed families and the elderly.
As children grow up and move away, the giggles that filled a home are replaced with a feeling of loss. The anticipation of a special day is replaced with the acceptance that it’s just another day and another meal. Older parents and the elderly learn to replace the giggles of the past with an empty endurance of the present. I wanted to help my suffering friends, but how?
Relieving the Hurt
Several years ago I was ill and would have to endure a long recovery. My friends, Becky, Nila, Jane, and Kay lived 250 miles away and couldn’t visit. They joined together and sent hope when I needed it most. A small box arrived at my door with a note: “Enclosed you will find 21 gifts. Open one a day and know that we’re praying for you and that we love you very much!
Every morning I sipped my coffee and felt pampered as I opened a present. The gifts were insignificant. They included a bag of M&M’s, a candle, a small tube of hand cream, and a rubber band with a note attached that said, “Hope you spring back soon!” The anticipation of being pampered every day for a month helped me to heal both mentally and physically.
My friends had given birth to a wonderful idea. As the holidays approached I thought of others who might be hurting. A young mother who was overworked, a friend who was going through a divorce, an elderly woman who rarely saw her granddaughter, and a mother who lost her husband and adult son to cancer—all these women were hurting. What could I do to help them feel better? How could I help them through their pain? What would it take to bring the Christmas giggles of a small child back into their world?
I know the reason for the season doesn’t include presents. Every hurting woman I wanted to help knew the reason for the season. They each celebrated Christmas as a spiritual event. But the joy of receiving presents—now that’s a different story.
Celebration joy is often wrapped in the giggles of children, anticipation of Christmas morning, or sharing a cupcake and tea with a friend. I wanted to help my friends recapture that joy. Why not do for these women what my friends had done for me? I thought. And the Ageless Christmas project was born.
The Game that Brings Joy
I made a list of five women I wanted to help. I spent the next few weeks collecting inexpensive items. That year, those five women received a small box on December 1. The note inside read, “This is a Christmas game. Open one present every day until December 25. There will be fun things to do each day. Don’t forget to call a friend and share your fun with them. Be sure and save the largest gift—the one marked December 25—to open on Christmas day.” The letter went on to explain how much I loved and appreciated them. I explained how much their life has meant to me and that my life was better because of their influence.
My goal was to support their love for their family, to get them involved with others during the holidays, and to build their self-esteem with honest compliments and special gifts geared for their personality. I designed homemade cards, crafts, and name tags. I shopped the dollar store for special but inexpensive items like a votive candle and holder, a Christmas mug, a box of tea, or a special loofah with scented soap. I looked for packages that could be split among several women. I loved finding fiction books or scented hand cream. I wrapped packages of candy canes or boxes of instant cookie mix.
Half the items were wrapped with loving notes like “pamper yourself” or “I love chocolate, don’t you?” The other half had messages to help the receiver get involved in others’ lives, such as, “Bake some cookies and take them to the men’s Bible class at church.” “Take these candy canes to church and pass them out to the children.” Lonely people need a reason to share with others.
For the last eight years I’ve sent a box to each of those ladies and have added several more women. This year, I’ll take care of nine women.
When possible I purchased enough gifts for 25 days. Other times (due to limited funds) I sent 10 or 15 gifts. I’ve found that it’s not the value of the gift or even how many I send. It’s the game that brings joy.
My friends are excited that I took the time to prepare something just for them. The joy doesn’t end with them. Their families and churches have been blessed by their renewed joy. And well … it’s the most fun I have during the holidays. I’m recapturing the joy I felt providing good times for my own children.
This little game has enriched my life, helped me to appreciate those who have made a difference in my life, and has taught me the priceless gift of a thankful heart. Nothing compares with the joy of knowing that you’ve lifted someone’s spirits and helped them to have a good day. To this day I giggle when I find a dollar item that I know will bring a smile to my friend’s face.
This Christmas I hope you’ll find a way to bring lasting giggly joy to someone who feels alone. I hope that you’ll find your own way of expressing the fact that Christmas joy is ageless.
Debbie Jansen is a family specialist, author, speaker, and owner of The Family Training Center. She writes and teaches the curriculum for more than 90 classes on relationships. www.debbiejansen.com
This article was printed in Todays Christian Woman online magazine in November/2010