True gift

The real meaning of Christmas can sometimes come when and where you least expect it.

By John Hung on December 14,2015 02:18 PM

True gift

Photo: Hong Nga

As long as I can remember the Christmas holidays have always been my favourite time of year. ‘Twas a time where the normal stress and complications of life seemed to be forgotten and everyone became enchanted with the holiday spirit.

Commencement of the festivities normally began on Thanksgiving Day, with a food coma accompanied by ‘visions of sugar plum dancing in my head.’ This was followed by the shopping craze known as Black Friday, marking the official start of the holiday shopping season. The following weeks leading up to December 25 were filled with great anticipation and schoolboy excitement.

Now, even though I’ve grown up, the decorations, eggnog and gingerbread cookies, together with timeless Christmas songs and movies, still brings me great warmth and nostalgia. Simply put, I love Christmas and couldn’t fathom a world without it. This is why it was so disconcerting when in 2010 I was in Vietnam and faced the prospect of no Christmas joy.

Being an unofficial but predominantly Buddhist country, one wouldn’t expect Vietnam to celebrate a Christian holiday. Ignorant was I at the time, underestimating the far reaching commercialisation of Christmas. By the time I arrived Christmas as a commercialised event had already permeated the major cities in Vietnam, with many youngsters engaging in the ubiquitous exchanging of gifts. When I asked people about the meaning of the holiday or why they bought presents, it often produced perplexed faces.

While people were being sucked into celebrating a holiday they didn’t understand, others were capitalising. Boutiques and shopping malls adorned with Christmas decorations had signs offering great deals to entice shoppers. The Christmas trees and lights sure made it feel like Christmas, but its meaning had been lost in translation. Christmas and Santa Claus had become a commercial sell out. It wasn’t long before I began to give up hope of recreating the Christmas spirit in Vietnam, but in that miraculous Christmas fashion, it soon turned around quickly.

The days began to tick away and with Christmas just looming around the corner I went to an orphanage I frequently visit. The kids were gathered around the television set and to my surprise were watching ‘A Christmas Story’. As their curious minds attempted to comprehend what they were watching, they soon bombarded me with questions:

‘What’s Christmas?’ ‘Do you celebrate Christmas?’ ‘What do you do during Christmas?’

My futile attempts to explain the meaning of Christmas left the kids more confused. It was then I realised I couldn’t explain to them what Christmas was; I had to show them. I set out to give the kids their first Christmas, one that was filled with Christmas movies, candy canes, a home cooked meal, and of course presents. Needless to say it was a success and it was in this effort that I began to see again what made Christmas the most wonderful time of year.

Christmas is only a commercialised holiday if you perceive it as one. What had made Christmas special for me all those years was the joy and warmth of being around family and friends. My fondest memories are of what I did with my family and not what gifts I received. I ultimately received the best gift, of seeing the children’s beautiful faces, and Christmas has always been about giving and sharing with others in the Christmas spirit. So this year, no matter where you are, give others the true gift of Christmas and you will be rewarded in return. Merry Christmas!

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