The True Spirit of Christmas

Inspired by Team Hope’s Shoebox Appeal

It’s coming up to that magical time of year again and whether you are one of those people who love the build-up and the hype and the Falala’s over the radio in the car, or someone who thinks it is far too early to even mention the C word before and only on Christmas Eve, this post IS FOR YOU! TRUST ME!

Christmas is approaching and before we know it, we will be putting on our silly jumpers and decking the halls with holly and mistletoe. (I can sense the shiver of the humbugs and hear the squeal of the fanatics!). Our stockings will be hanging on the fireplace and Rudolph’s treats will be placed by the tree. For most of us, Christmas is a wonderful time of year filled with joy and happiness and loads of food. But for some of us, Christmas can be quite upsetting. Maybe we’ve lost a family member and wish they were here, perhaps you’re going through a tough breakup or divorce, or maybe we simply don’t have the money that the shops are expecting and almost pressuring us to spend! It can be quite a stressful time for some people and that’s why I have decided to write this post. To remind you of the Joy of Christmas and it’s true meaning.

As I am a Christian, Christmas has a deeper meaning for me and always has, even in what I consider my dark years (Yes, it is possible for this human ball of positivity to have gone through some dark times… hence the motivation to inspire ya’ll to BRIGHTEN UP YOUR LIVES!). Whether you believe in God or not, it is hard to ignore that beautiful presence that fills the land all throughout the festive season. For me, church first thing on Christmas day is one of the best events I have ever experienced. Everyone is so happy and full of joy, but the best part is how surreal it feels. You’re all there, from different backgrounds, different families, different nationalities, all for the same purpose; TO CELEBRATE!

Growing up I always enjoyed church on Christmas morning, but one of my favourite memories about Christmas was the year of the mystery shoeboxes! Shoeboxes were collected from every store, Dunnes Stores, Roches Stores and even the ‘Fagan Stores’. Out of nowhere, shoeboxes appeared in the kitchen, the living room, the hall, stairs and landing! Shoeboxes I thought were mine, were now amalgamated into this massive pile while my shoes were thrown back into the wardrobes or under the beds. My granny would have boxes, my cousins would have boxes, my next-door neighbours would have boxes, and everyone everywhere would be asking for shoe boxes! It was pandemonium! Slightly exaggerated, but let’s remember this is from a 7-year olds perspective… 😉

So, what were these boxes for? Why in all the earth was Mam collecting shoe boxes? Was she going mad? Had she fallen into a new, and rather strange obsession? Had she suddenly realised that Barbie needed a house and she was about to build the best cardboard beach house I had ever seen? I wish! No, these shoeboxes had a purpose. One greater than I could have ever imagined at the time. These shoeboxes were presents!

Presents? Sorry, hold up… PRESENTS?! 7-year old me could not understand why Mam was gifting shoeboxes to people. What would they want with a shoebox? Wouldn’t they much rather a box of playdough or giant tubs of Crayola crayons with sheets and sheets of colouring paper? I just couldn’t get on board, until Mam sat me down and explained everything! Now don’t quote me word for word, but this is how I imagine and slightly remember our conversation going…

‘’These shoeboxes are not for us sweetheart, they’re for children all over the world!’’, she began to explain. ‘’But what would any child want with a shoebox Mam? It’s just a piece of cardboard…,’’ I challenged her. ‘’Well, we’re not just sending empty shoeboxes, we’re going to cover them up like a present with Christmas wrapping paper and fill them with lovely things to send to other children.’’ ‘’But… what lovely things Mam, and why are the lovely things not all for me?’’ I reckon at this stage, she laughed and probably wondered how on earth is she going to get this through to me. She managed very well I must say. ‘’Ok, think of it this way, Santa is coming to you very soon and all your wishes will most likely come true. The children that we are sending these shoeboxes to don’t have anything. You have your lovely bed, brand new clothes and all your lovely barbies upstairs in your room. Some of these children don’t even have a house to live in with their Mam and Dad. Some of them don’t even know what Christmas is about!’’ ‘’Oh Mam, that’s very sad. How could they not know about Christmas?! It’s the most wonderful time of the year!’’ ‘’Exactly love, but for what reason do you think it’s the most wonderful time of year?’’ ‘’Emmmmm… BECAUSE IT’S JESUS’ BIRTHDAY AND SANTA IS COMING!!!’’

I was a very spiritual child and I always carried God with me throughout my life. But having this conversation with my Mam made me think about all the presents I would get and how wonderful it would be for me. But what about all those children that wouldn’t get anything? Why did Santa not fly to them? So, I asked the questions and Mam so gracefully answered.

‘’Santa can fly all over the world Jessica, but he needs our help too. He needs our help to share the love at Christmas time and spread the Christmas cheer. God gave His only son to share His love for us and He asked us to do the same, love each other. So, in sending a shoebox, we’re blessing someone with not only the gift inside the box, but the gift that will be placed inside their hearts; Joy, Peace and Hope.’’

Mam thought me so much growing up about how to be humble and how to share and be kind. Being kind got so easy for me that after the Mystery Shoeboxes ordeal, every year I wanted to take part in this fantastic appeal! It became the highlight of my year; it became my favourite part of the Christmas season. Each year, I commit to taking part in the Christmas Shoebox Appeal not to look like a charitable person or to get recognition for being kind, but because the impact of sharing a small box of treats with one child across the world, is far greater than we can ever imagine.

Put yourself in the shoes of these children; some have no food or water, some are surrounded by crime and possibly war, some are simply crying out to be seen and cared about. Now imagine how they feel on Christmas morning. There is no Christmas tree by the fire, no fire in the house, and probably no house at all. Imagine a shoebox landing on the laps of one of these children. Imagine the excitement in their eyes but also the apprehension they feel as they may have never received something before. Imagine the excitement when they realise that this box, the treats inside, the festive wrapping paper, this is all for them! Incredible!

What I love about the Christmas Shoebox Appeal is that not only are you sending a present across the world to a less fortunate family, you are sending the sense of ‘’Someone out there cares for me. Someone out there knows I am here. Someone out there loves me.’’ In sending a shoebox you’re sending love, sending joy, sending hope! The true spirit of Christmas is giving. It’s not about the diamond earrings hanging on the tree, the crackers on the dinner table, or even the stuffing bowl spoon at the end of the night! The true spirit of Christmas is allowing yourself to be selfless and instead of thinking of what you’re going to get, you give what you would like to receive – LOVE!

This Christmas, why not give Love? Why not, instead of spending fortunes on things that will lose value in time, give love to those around you? Check in on your elderly neighbours and maybe make them a cup of tea. Invite your distant family around for dessert so that they feel closer. Give to those less fortunate, whether it’s simply wishing a homeless person ‘Merry Christmas’, or be it you decide to take part in the shoebox appeal. The sheer act of acknowledging another person’s existence and humanity is more precious than any diamond ring at Christmas.

Team Hope run a fantastic operation for the Shoebox Appeal. If you can’t donate anything in the form of a shoebox designed for a little girl or boy, even if you can’t donate a couple of euro, why not donate your time? It’s a huge operation to collect all the boxes from across the country, gather them all in the one place and load them onto the trucks that carry these precious gifts abroad. Team Hope are a fantastic bunch of people and are always looking for volunteers around Christmas time to lend a hand. Give back this Christmas! In one way or another, you can help support this beautiful act of kindness to not only happen in 2019 but grow to an even larger movement in the years to come.

So, perk yourself up, put a smile on your kisser, be humble and kind, and share the love because that, my lovely readers, is the true Spirit of Christmas!

Illuminare x

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