Thursday, December 18, 2008

A Christmas that was different

As a child, Christmas time was mostly spent at home with my family in Calvinia. I can still recall the spirit of good will and expectation that was such a central part of our celebrations: we would listen to music, sing together, enjoy a special meal and eventually gather around a Christmas tree to receive our gifts.

One year, however, I had a different Christmas with relatives in Cape Town. In the days before the 25th my cousin and I had been partners in a junior tennis tournament in the city, and since the trip back to Calvinia was rather long the family invited me to stay over with them for Christmas. In an unexpected way it became an extraordinary occasion during which I learnt an important lesson.

At the time I was carrying a very special gift I had bought for myself, in my luggage. It was a record with songs by the remarkable Jewish-German tenor, Joseph Schmidt. I had discovered recordings of Schmidt’s music shortly before, found his voice very special, and so had been looking for this particular record for quite some time. I had saved my pocket money for whenever the opportunity may arise to buy it. And then in Cape Town, during a break in our tennis schedule, I got the chance. I can still recall my delight and excitement when, among the hundreds of records that Stuttafords had on offer at the time, I discovered the Joseph Schmidt I had wished for. Like a precious treasure I carefully wrapped and packed it away - I could not wait to return to the Karoo to enjoy listening to my long awaited gift.

But on that specific Christmas morning my little dream took an unexpected turn. Not knowing my relatives’ rituals, it came as a surprise when very early on Christmas morning I was woken up by my cousins entering my room, wishing me well and each giving me a gift they had specially sought out. This surprise was also a bit embarrassing, revealing how preoccupied and self-centred I had been; I had completely forgotten to buy any Christmas presents. All I had was my cherished Schmidt record. And although extremely painful, I knew instantly that if I really wanted to honour the spirit of Christmas, I had to give it away.

To this day my relatives do not know what sacrifice I made that morning; they had no idea how difficult and costly it was to give up my most precious belonging. But then the delight on their faces and the way they received and appreciated the gift from me, convinced me that I had done the right thing. That day I learnt that the true message and joy of Christmas is not as much in receiving, as in giving.

In fact, Christmas started when God gave us his only begotten son, so that we may enjoy abundant love, forgiveness and mercy. And also share it with others.

Carel Anthonissen

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