It is a different kind of Christmas for me this year. My plans to help serve Christmas dinner at a nearby homeless shelter were kiboshed December 23rd when I phoned to check what time we were expected and was told they’d canceled the dinner. There is a Christmas lunch being served to the needy by another organization, so the shelter decided doing a dinner was redundant – but forgot to phone the volunteers to tell them. I phoned the other organization to offer my help, but they have been inundated with volunteers and have more than they can use. As I don’t have two-legged family with me this year, and was looking forward to helping out in the community, I felt a wee sense of disappointment.
But that feeling didn’t last for long. It is hard to be melancholy when Christmas Spirit is all around. It is especially hard to be melancholy when one shares Christmastime with animals. Animals never fail to bring me a sense of peace and joy, to show me the spirit of Christmas.
Christmas is the laughter that wells up from deep inside me as I watch Oliver do his happy dance all around the yard despite his age, his cognitive disorder, or his visual and hearing disabilities. Life never gets him down.
Christmas is the joy of seeing a frail old sheltie named Belle do her Princess routine, soundly scolding any dog or human who fails to show her the right amount of deference.
Christmas is the pleasure I experience when I feel that persistent little tap on my arm from Allie as she persuades me to give her a treat.
Christmas is the bittersweet memories of the critters who have passed, held safely in my arms as their souls were released from their wrecked earthly bodies.
Christmas is the gratitude I feel when I look around me at the SPCA on Christmas Eve and see dedicated volunteers walking and playing with dogs, and generous visitors delivering armloads of gifts.
Christmas is the pure joy I feel as I watch an old dog whose family no longer wanted him and who left him at the shelter several weeks ago, happily jump in the van of his new foster-to-adopt dad, huge smiles on both their faces.
Christmas is the sense of community I feel when I walk Sadie and Charley on the seawall and we are greeted by smiling people whose names we do not know yet who always say hi and stop to give the dogs a scratch behind the ears.
Christmas is the awe that fills my whole being when I look around me at Sadie and Charley and Belle and Oliver and Allie, at the dogs in the shelter and the deer in the trees, at the glorious sunrises and sunsets, at red rosehips on leafless branches and blue kingfishers on sun-washed posts, at the gulls and the herons and the fine bits of shell on the beach, and at everything else that is so good about this beautiful, beautiful world in which we live.
Christmas is not found in brightly wrapped packages and bags under a tree. It is found all around us – in the welcoming bark of a dog, in the noise and chatter of volunteers, in the contented sighs of the the hungry around a free Christmas dinner. It is found in the smiles on the faces of dogs and humans who have found a home with each other. It is found in shared experiences and solitary moments. And it is found in friendship – whether that friendship be with dogs and cats and human family members, with people we meet face-to-face on the street, or people we meet in cyberspace through a blog.
We live in a world where the Christmas Spirit is truly available all year round. And so it should be.
Merry Christmas, everyone. I am forever thankful for your friendship, your support, your words of encouragement, your laughter. I thank you for sharing my joys and my sorrows, my frustrations and my celebrations. My critters and I wish you and yours the very, very best of the holiday season. May the spirit of Christmas surround you this day and always.
Jean, Charley, Sadie, Oliver, Belle and Allie.