“The days that make us happy make us wise.”

— John Masefield

Only six days remain in 2010.  As we look ahead to those that remain, we cannot help but look backward as well and begin to take stock of the year that is ending.  Today I will celebrate Christmas with my children and grandchildren — a tradition we began several years back of celebrating on the Sunday after Christmas.  For many of us who will gather today, it has been a challenging year.  With the economic climate as it is, even those who have been steadily employed find themselves challenged to meet the ever-rising costs of goods and services. There are fewer gifts under the Christmas tree this year, and less money has been spent on our holiday gifting.  What will remain the same, as it has throughout this year — and many before it — is that the room will be filled with love.

If it is true that wisdom grows out of happiness, then I predict that we will all become a little bit wiser today.  As I sit in the early morning and smell the food beginning to cook in the crockpots, my mind wanders to days many years ago when Christmas came as a challenge in the midst of an already difficult lifestyle.  I was a single mother with two children.  My small paycheck covered the rent and hand-me-downs kept my kids clothed.  Most of the time we squeaked by with just enough, although I will admit that there were days when only the children had supper.  The thought of Christmas coming when I was the one responsible for weaving magic for my children was not a pleasant one.  I never wanted my kids to feel that they were deprived of what life had to offer them; and I knew that I would not be able to provide happiness by spending money we did not have.

As our budget squeaked this year, I found myself indulging in the happy practices that grew out of those difficult days.  I had told my children that since we had so many nice things and since they could count on me to be sure they had what they needed, we would tell Santa just to fill our Christmas stockings and to save the bigger toys for families where the parents couldn’t afford gifts for their kids.  This meant, of course, that those stockings had to be very special!  I would go to the local warehouse sale and buy little toys unlike those seen in the stores; and on Christmas Eve, I would painstakingly wrap each tiny toy in colorful paper used only by Santa.  With only one or two presents from me, my children still could spend quite a long time opening gifts.  Years later, when our life was less challenging, the kids would reminisce about the days “when Santa wrapped every present in our stockings.”

In the happiness that flourished amid adversity, wisdom was born; and I found that wisdom surfacing this year as I slashed my budget and took a census of the children, their partners, and the eight grandchildren.  As we schemed to think of homemade gifts and searched for small but unique toys for the grandchildren, I found myself smiling as I wrapped eighty small packages and distributed them among the gift bags for the children.  I felt a true sense of giving as I placed the cash gifts in the beautiful cards I had designated for each of the adults — cards that expressed exactly what I wanted to say to each individual member of my family.

As I begin to reflect on 2010, I realize that the times that have brought me growth are the times that also have brought me happiness.  Some of those days seemed anything but happy at the time; but the strength we have gained in this year of challenges has shown us that there is no wisdom in despair.  It’s all about choices; and today I will choose to be happy as we celebrate the love of family, which is the greatest gift we could receive.