The weeks before Christmas are always busy. Last minute preparations and shopping take up energy and time. In December, people tend to get obsessed with gifts: who to buy gifts for, what to buy, how much to spend. We focus so much on the things of gift-giving that we become part of the commercialism we claim to hate. So this year I have bought my gifts like everyone else, but I have also thought about the concept of “a gift.” What I have realized is that the December gifts that mean the most to me are not things; they are gifts from the universe for my heart and soul.
For me, Roland is a December gift. We didn’t meet in December; we met in September. But it was in December of the year we met—1994—that I realized he was not just a colleague (at the school in China where we both worked) or a friend, but someone I was developing romantic feelings for. I clearly remember the moment I realized it…
The Canadian teachers at the school—eight of us, plus the Canadian principal—planned an elaborate series of Christmas celebrations for our Chinese students and the Chinese staff we worked with who’d never experienced Christmas before. We had a traditional school Christmas concert with carols for the students, a party where the kids got to sit on Santa Claus’s (Roland’s) lap and a traditional dinner, complete with turkey and the trimmings, for the Chinese staff. In the weeks before the dinner, Roland spent hours organizing the meal. He ordered groceries through the kitchen, ran around our town (Rong Qi) to get a tree, lights and decorations, and even took a long night-time trip by taxi to Macau to hunt down a dozen turkeys, which were not readily available near where we lived. On party day, he spent hours in the kitchen helping the Chinese cooks to prepare the foreign food to feed us all.
As the staff, Canadian and Chinese, gathered in the cafeteria before dinner, Christmas music played in the background, the room lights were lowered and colored Christmas lights gave the room a warm glow. People laughed and visited. The spirit of excitement and anticipation in the room was magic as they waited for this unique dinner, and we waited to see if they would enjoy it. For us Canadians, it was lovely to see our Chinese colleagues have these new experiences and get a taste of our culture as we had been having of theirs since our arrival in the country months earlier. As dinner was about to be served, Roland came out of the kitchen wearing an apron and carrying a huge turkey on a platter. In the moment that I looked up from my conversation and saw him coming towards the table, I realized what a wonderful, caring man he is and how much other people’s joy brings him joy. I also realized that I was falling in love with him. That I’d fooled myself into believing that he was just my “buddy from work” for all those weeks before suddenly struck me as ridiculous.
In a fairy tale, of course, our eyes would have locked, we would have run into each other’s arms and we would have whispered, “I love you” at the same moment. Things didn’t happen quite that way as they rarely ever do outside of fairy tales (plus I’m no princess—although he is a handsome prince, with flaws perhaps, but a prince nonetheless). Eventually though we did eventually get up the courage to admit our feelings (one December later, but that’s another story…) and create a lovely life together. So every year around this time, I remember that first moment and think how lucky I was to receive this December gift.
Almost exactly two years later, my other awesome December gift came into my life, our dog Bailey.
In December 1996, Roland and I were back in Canada and living together. One hectic Saturday afternoon, we went to West Edmonton Mall to do some Christmas shopping. I went into PJ’s Pets “just to look” at the puppies, never intending to get one. At the time, it seemed like no big deal; I used to stop in and look nearly every time I was at the mall. In the store, I strolled past the glass and gazed at the puppies. “That one’s cute.” “Oh, look at this one.” “How sweet.” I was attracted to some and not to others, but none tugged at my heart.
Then I spied these two puppies together in a cage. One was a black and white something or other; the other was a little caramel colored cutie dozing in the corner.
When I was little I had a caramel colored poodle, Misty, and I adored her. When I got older, I decided I wanted another dog the same color. When I saw this little one, half asleep, I didn’t resist the urge to ask to cuddle him, which I had never done in all the dozens of times I’d been in the store. I should have known then that this choice would lead me down a different road… but as is clear from the previous scene, I am not always that in tune with myself.
Anyway, I asked to hold the dog, and Roland and I went into the back room while someone brought me the puppy. I cradled him in my arm with his sweet little face tucked under my chin and his little brownish bum in my arms, and I stroked the soft fur on his head. I was wearing a fleecy with three little buttons up the front. The little dog found the top one, closed his eyes and begun to suck on the button. That was it. My heart was gone.
To be fair, I did give him back to the clerk and try to walk away. I didn’t get very far, though, before I turned around, marched back to the store and told the salesman I would take him home. Thus little Bailey—who is now an old man at 16 years old—became a December gift I gave myself. And he has given me the gift of laughter every single day we have spent together (and many when we were apart).
For many people, including me, the holiday season is about giving and receiving gifts. For me, it’s also about remembering Life’s gifts—and I have been blessed by two amazing ones that came into my life in December.
Merry Christmas, Everyone!