Sunday, December 28, 2008

Christmas is the time for giving and it's not just me.

Merry Christmas everyone;

I have always thought of myself as a "do-gooder" or a "Good Deed Doer" and have gone through life with the mantra that if you are a good person and do the right thing, especially where kids, family and animals are involved, good things will happen to you.

It hasn't always worked out that way, but I don't give up hope that no matter how bad things are now, they will get better some day. Of course if personal finance is your weakness, like it is with me, the good things in life will have a harder time finding you.

Last week, really put my mantra, as well as my finances, to the test, but I'm here to say to you all today that it does work and in unexpected ways.

What's the line from the movie Miracle on 34th street...."yes, Elizabeth, there is a Santa Claus"

And the spirit of Santa Claus, lives on in me, as well as many others, some of whom have given me a better Christmas than even I, always the optimist, expected.

"A better Christmas than expected"......I tried and think I succeeded in that with my boys and their girlfriends, this year. I also tried to give a better christmas to the woman, who was out in front of Target last Tuesday, giving out decorated candy canes for a money donation.

As I walked in to the Target at White Marsh, to pick up one video game for Josh, there was a woman out there, asking for donations to help a needy family. To anyone who gave her a dollar, she gave them a candy cane that she decorated with pipe cleaners, small bells and plastic eyes.

When I came back out, I went up to here, with a few bucks in my pocket and asked her directly, what was this for. She answered me back, just as directly, "I'll be honest with you sir, I'm trying to raise money to buy my kids christmas presents". I had already put donations of change or a buck or two in the Salvation Army kettles over the past weeks, I am struggling to get my own kids presents too, but the fact that she was out there and giving something back for your donation was something that I admired, and so I told her that I can appreciate what she is trying to do and put five dollars in her basket and took one candy cane.

So Tuesday 12/23 was my shopping day, as up until then, I didn't have the funds to do any shopping. Thanks to a check from Mom and Dad, I had enough money to get something for each kid as well as groceries to re-stock the pantry.

Things were going well, but as I gassed up my van, I started to get a nagging feeling that I had better check on my checking account. You see, I had just paid two bills on-line and meanwhile, just remembered that there were two "automatic payments" that had not gone through yet and I wasn't sure if they would go through that week or the next.

As you are probably guessing, I got home and looked at my checking account...dangerously low, those two auto deductions went through that day and the bank hadn't posted my last two bill payments.....nuts.

By the next day, my account went in the red and things were looking grim for beyond the Christmas holiday, especially because I have Christopher and Daisy for his entire Christmas vacation. But I knew that I, still had some cash left and would be getting a bit over 200 dollars from my part time job with AIM the upcoming Friday and while that would probably bring my account out of the red, there wouldn't be much left over till my next pay day which will be January 2nd.

I sat down and thought things over and realized that it was now Christmas Eve, there was nothing else that could be done till after Christmas and at least for now, it was time to enjoy the holiday with my family.

Things were dark, my future was uncertain.....but it was Christmas, and hope springs eternal.

Now for a little history lesson about terrible times and the spirit of Christmas.

You didn't think I'd let you get away without a history lesson did you?

It's December 1914, the first year of the First World War, men have been fighting and dying in the thousands and are now, starting to build trenches and face each other across a no-mans land.

Each side, British and French, versus German, vowed to wipe the other out completely.

And yet, on Christmas Eve a miracle happened that would take every General and every Politician, by suprise. Something would happen that would bring light to the darkness.

It was Christmas Eve and men on both sides, all along the Western Front, sat down in their trenches to share a meal and a drink or to sing a song and write to their homes and loved ones.

All along the German lines, small christmas trees with candles, were set up along the tops of trenches, songs like Silent Night, were sung and then answered back by British troops, who perhaps emboldened by the Christmas Trees, made overtures of a temporary truce to the Germans across the way.

One soldier walked out in to No-mans land, another soldier came from the other side and met him halfway. Soon, more came out from the trenches, tobbacco was swapped with chocolate.

Below is a drawing made by an English soldier during the truce.

A little farther down the line, French soldiers, Germany's most implacable foe, walked out into no-mans land and swapped French wine for German Sausage, photos of wives and sweethearts were passed around, German, Scot and French soldiers sat around fires drinking coffee and singing Christmas songs and at midnight, a Scottish Chaplin held Mass for soldiers from all sides, right in the center of no-mans land.

The truce didn't end then either, for with the dawning of Christmas Day, came more fellowship between the men, whom just days before were trying to kill the other. Soccer games took place there in no-mans land, addresses were traded so that men might be able to meet with each other when the war ended. Below is a photo taken on Christmas Day, of German and British soldiers gathered together.

The story of this Christam Truce would grow and survive all those Generals and Politicians who asked for a pushed for the war. It showed that no matter how bad things can be, there should always be hope in the goodness of your fellow man and the magic of the holiday.

Now I don't consider myself to be a religious person, but I've always been struck by one thing in this story....

Each side in the war, said, "God is with us" or "God is on our side", but I think during the 1914 Christmas Truce, god showed that he was on Humanities side.

Now how about a little Christmas magic for

Christmas day 2008, has us up in Delaware spending the day with my sister Ginas' family.

They live a little over an hour from us, so we spend a part of each holiday together.

Since my birthday was just a few days before, Gina and John gave me a birthday card and enclosed in the card was my age in cash, with a note for me "to spend on yourself".

Now Gina and I have exchanged birthday cards for many years, as both of our birthdays are in December (22nd and 29th), but the last few years, we haven't exchanged gifts. So this was a nice and most welcome suprise.

Christmas night, the boys, their girlfriends Nicole and Jasmine are all back at the house for our family gift giving. All four kids were happy to have some gifts from me to unwrap, even if it was just a gift card to Target or Subway:-).
Josh and Nicole gave me some very nice gifts as well as a Target gift card for $50.00.

Then I opened yet another Christmas card from my Mom and Dad (the 3rd one actually) and there was a $40.00 gift card for Wal-Mart.

Wow...I know knew, that I would have enough to keep the household pantry and laundry room, plus cat and dog food supplied for the next couple of weeks.
To go back a few days to my birthday, on Sunday night, I got a gift card from Chris and Jasmine for Borders Books, this was perfect because there was one book there that I had been wanting to get for a few months now, and with this gift card, I could do it.
The very next day, 12/22, I received as a birthday gift that exact book, from one of my closest friends, Dick Caldwell.
Dick is a wargamer like me and natually, knows what type of book would catch my eye.
Of course, there is always another book, that catches my eye at Borders, so the gift card will still come in handy.

And finally there was an even greater surprise waiting for me in my mail box when I got home from work Saturday evening and that brings us all the way back to the image of Santa's cap and "Merry Christmas" at the top of this long post.

In a simple white envelope, with no return address, except for an Albany, NY post mark, came another bright light of goodness to me.

Inside the envelope was a single sheet of white paper with the image you see on the top and a Merry Christmas just below, there was no signature or anything else to reveal to me, the name or identity of the sender.
Along with that note of Christmas wishes was a Postal Money Order for $100.00.

To you who sent this, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
In this economy and with tough times all around, this money order, as well as all the other gifts I have received since last Sunday 12/22 from Friends and Family have been a godsend.
Just as the soliders gained strength and hope during that Christmas Truce of 1914, I have done the same here and now thanks to all of you.
Below is a picture of my boys and Ginas boys, plus the girlfriends of Josh, Jonathan and Christopher. Taken at Gina's house on Christmas Day.

From left to right: Jasmine, Christopher, Nicole, Josh, Matty, Jonathan and Kara.
A great group of kids, and all are key parts of Mr. Joes World.


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