Christmas is not my season.

First, there’s the shopping. I do hate shopping. Already I’ve mistakenly double-ordered from Amazon, over-spent on outdoor stuff at REI and dragged my feet too long to get a must-have item on a loved one’s list. Ugh.

Then there’s the clutter. Christmas decorations make sense to me for about two days, then they become visual background noise that ultimately confuses and irritates me. And I raced out for a Christmas tree recently because I was afraid if I let the weekend pass, all the good trees would be gone. Double ugh.

Stir in the call of the faithful to set aside time to anticipate and wait with patience for the Holy, throw in the expectation that all human contact will be full of comfort and joy, add a heaping helping of the Martha Stewart–inspired dream of gingerbread in every oven and fresh evergreen boughs on every hearth and … well, I mostly want to cry.

So I walk gently through the days. I negotiate the emotional expectations to the present reality every day. I remember to sleep and eat. I cling to time to be still and know God – not the babe in the manger, but the Holy Parent who loves me. And I try to be eager in my resolve to return all kindness with kindness, ultimately hoping that goodness will grow beyond grumpiness.

But I find people are generally grumpy this time of year.

“Wanna bag for this?”

“Really? We haven’t had that for two weeks.”

“Uh, yeah, you too, have a nice day. Next.”

“No, you can’t return that without a receipt. Next.”

Finally, I made a transaction with someone who smiled and said with cheerful authenticity: “Thank you. Merry Christmas. Have a great day.”

It didn’t happen at the upscale kitchen gadget shop, not at the all-natural-eco-friendly retailer, not even at the bookstore where I was purchasing books about saving the world one school at a time.

It came from the toothless, shivering, underdressed-for-the-weather man standing on the corner near my house with a sign that read, “Good karma for you. Anything helps.” I gave him one dollar. One measly dollar. And I said, “I hope you have a warm place to go to soon.”

He was cheerful. He was grateful. He said, “Thank you for caring, ma’am. Thank you. Merry Christmas.” And as I drove away, he smiled, waved and shouted, “Have a great day!”

I now have a stack of dollar bills in my car. It’s my investment in Christmas sanity.

And to those among us who need so little from us to be gracious and kind this holiday season, you have increased my joy and made me mindful of goodness in the crazy world that is Christmas.

Jan Chapman is a former broadcast journalist, a storyteller and a blogger. She is a member of Church of the Savior, a UCC congregation with Baptist roots in Austin, Texas. She blogs at Thinking in Peaces.

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