My First Real Christmas


    When I was little, I lived in a tiny town in Montana. Despite being staunch Christians, my parents didn’t believe in celebrating Christmas, because there is no certain knowledge of when Christ was born. The year my brother started school, they gave us presents for New Year’s so that when other kids asked us what we got for Christmas, we would at least have presents to talk about.

    That was the year my mother broke her back in a car accident in the spring. After that, my brother and sister and I bounced from foster home to foster home and only stayed with my parents for a few brief periods.

    Through it all, we heard rumors of Christmas, but the experience was more like hanging out with a bunch of people who all went to high school together. None of it made sense and no one saw reason to explain any of it to us. They thought we knew. The year my adult half-sister taught my brother and me to make paper chains, she made us promise not to tell our parents what we’d done. We promised, but we didn’t understand what was wrong with making paper chains. Somehow, during all that moving around, we never experienced Christmas to know what it was.

    Eventually we went to live with an aunt who always celebrated Christmas in a big way. I was a great trial to her, because I was afraid to want anything. As Christmas approached, she made a big deal about how Santa was coming and we needed to make out our list so it would have time to make it to the North Pole. When my list only had three things, she brought home a Sears catalog, She called it the Wishbook, and had each of us go through it and circle the things we wanted. I kept wanting to know how many things I should circle, and how much was too expensive. She kept insisting I should mark everything I wanted and mandated a minimum of 10 items. I set my own upper limit at $5 and dutifully selected 10 toys.

    She gave up and simply purchased the entire front cover of the Sears Wishbook catalog. Or, that’s what it seemed to me when I came out of my room Christmas morning. I have a list somewhere of all the things that were under that tree, and I believe there were between 20 and 30 packages just for me.

    That morning has haunted me all of my life. It was probably the most magical moment of my young life – and the most problematic. In this age of rampant entitlement among children, it may be hard to imagine a child unable to receive at Christmas. But I didn’t know how. For decades I remembered that Christmas and couldn’t tell the story without crying. It wasn’t until I had to lead a Sunday service about abundance a few years ago that I figured out that it wasn’t the joy of that morning I reacted to, it was fear and pain.

    That morning of generosity and love collided head-on with my upbringing. I had been sternly taught by living in so many different households that I didn’t deserve love and generosity unless I earned it (by being good and invisible). Even then I only deserved what I needed.

    I didn’t know what to do with the bounty of that "first Christmas," so rather than learn that maybe I deserved good things without needing to earn them, I put that memory in a box and put it on a shelf outside of "real" life.

    Once I figured that out, I could tell the story at my Sunday service without crying and without telling every painstaking detail. I could look at the child I was and see why my aunt and uncle so desperately wanted to give my siblings and me what we’d never had before.

    Since then, the beliefs about reality that had been keeping me from receiving bounty have been loosening their hold on me. I’ve been growing more free and willing to ask for more from the world.

    It amazes me how I willingly wore that straitjacket for so long without realizing it. And, now and then, I meet others who are wearing belief straitjackets of their own and not realizing it. These beliefs keep them from receiving on many fronts. They let love slip through their fingers. They don’t pursue their dreams (living in Africa, acting, becoming a potter, cleaning millennia of dirt from dinosaur fossils). They stay in relationships and jobs that are slowly killing them, simply because they believe they must.

    My suggestion to you is that you look for those memories that should be happy ones but are full of pain instead, and see if there are beliefs preventing you from being completely and fully who it is possible for you to be. If you find one, dissect it. Is it true? Is it constructive? If not, replace it with a belief that is those things. Namaste.

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    Jinjer Stanton
    Jinjer Stanton is the author of Yoga for Every Room in Your House. You can establish a home practice without moving furniture. Jinjer teaches yoga in Minneapolis. Read her blog at


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