This will be a different kind of Christmas for me and mine, and for a lot us, really, maybe even for you and yours.

   Each year I tell my children not to overspend on gifts. Telling them is my tradition. Not listening to me is theirs.

   A month ago, when we got together for Thanksgiving, I tried telling them again. And this time I really meant it.

   Like so many families, we’ve seen our share of financial “challenges” this year. Jobs were lost. Hours were cut. Budgets were stretched. Belts were tightened. It made me proud to watch my children and their others learn to make do, and to make more of less.

   This time, when I said they shouldn’t overspend, they all agreed in theory. But they couldn’t quite agree in fact.

   For them, the best part of Christmas is not the getting, but the giving. They truly love to give each other gifts.

   When I suggested drawing names, you’d have thought I said, “Let’s hog-tie Santa and stab him in the gut!”


   Finally, I, and the economy, began to win them over and we agreed, at last, to draw names.

   The plan was simple: We would each buy one gift with a $25 limit. We might have to shop for days to find something at that price but, hallelujah, we would not go deeper in debt.

   I, of course, planned to cheat. I’m good at it. Drawing names was my idea, but if I wanted to get something for everybody, what were they going to do about it, stab me in the gut?

   Then a funny thing happened on the way to Christmas. My husband lost his job. He was laid off two weeks ago with dozens of his coworkers.

   We were planning to have a Christmas party. Instead, we had a “pink slip” party for everyone who’d been fired.

    As I stood in my kitchen watching a houseful of newly unemployed people say their goodbyes and wish each other well, it occurred to me that this would be a different kind of Christmas for all of us. We were all in that same leaky boat.

   A few days later my husband, God bless him, found another job. I wish I could say the same for everyone at that party. I can’t, of course. Not yet. And probably not any time soon.

   Statistics are only numbers until they have faces and names. It is one thing to know that unemployment in your state stands at 13 percent, it’s another thing entirely to know 35 people who just lost their jobs and could lose their health insurance and their homes.

    Today I spoke with my daughter-in-law, who would love to give Christmas presents to every soul on Earth, but can’t quite swing it this year.

    I wish you could have heard the excitement in her voice. Instead of buying gifts that she can’t afford, she has poured her heart into organizing drives for the needy, collecting blankets for the homeless and toys for children who might otherwise get nothing at all.

   I recall a Christmas in my childhood when my family hit hard times. Some people from our church brought us a ham and a box of groceries. I was so mortified I wanted to go hide under the porch with the dogs.

   After they left, my mother sliced the ham and said, “Life is a bank. Sometimes you put in, other times you take out, either way, it’s all the same bank.”

   Giving, she told me, is easy, taking is hard. “Remember how it feels,” she said, “because one day you will do the giving.”

   Whether blessed to give or blessed to take, all that matters, really, is that we do so with a sense of our abundance, and an open and grateful heart.

   And it will be a different kind of Christmas for us all.

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