Burly Santa Clauses and wispy angels now stand guard at front doors, where just the day before pumpkins and stalks of corn were displayed. And, all the local theaters have changed their programs—to renditions of the Little Drummer Boy, the Dance of the Sugar Plum fairy, and so much more. It’s an amazing overnight transformation.
I wonder, what if we could do the same? What if we could shed our ghoulish fears overnight and discover joy the next morning? How incredible would that be?
While carolers now walk the downtown streets of Branson, strangers will often join in to sing. Who doesn't love the old Christmas hymns, the smell of hot cider, the bright reds and greens. My senses go wild during this season of giving, but so does my heart.
The bell ringing of Salvation Army draws me to its red kettles; I want to help—the hungry, the homeless, and the alone. Was I as generous the day before, or was I just preoccupied about having enough candy for the Trick-or-Treaters?
Do I need a reminder?
I recently read an article by Maria Konnikova in the Scientific American that focuses on the effect of generosity on humans. She explains that thoughtful generosity, where our focus is on someone else, can actually help us be happier people. Not so surprisingly, it is also one of the top three predictors of a happy marriage (after sexual intimacy and commitment).
The process of giving something of value to another person actually changes us neurologically and personally.
I am reminded of an experience I had shortly after we moved to the Ozark Mountains. My husband and I went to a crafts fair held in the historic downtown area. As I wandered from booth to booth, looking at woodwork, paintings, stitchery, and jewelry, I noticed an artisan throwing clay on a pottery wheel. When he saw me looking at his ceramic bowls, he introduced himself and then asked, “Where are you from?” His question was one I had been asked many times since I had moved to the area. Branson is a tourist site, and most of its occupants are visitors.
“Originally from California, but we live here now,” I responded.
“That’s great!” he said, smiling. “I moved to Branson eleven years ago from Ventura, and I’ve never regretted it. So tell me, have you gotten involved yet?”
“We’re just settling in,” I explained. “Most of the boxes are unpacked now, so we’ll soon be free to participate more.”
“Well, when you’re ready, you’ll find there is something for everyone to do. We all volunteer,” he offered. “Maybe you’d like to help at the hospital, or perhaps you’d like to tutor children after school. What’s your interest?”
I shared my past experiences of working with Habitat for Humanity and several different inner-city soup kitchens. I told him about my training in counseling and in education. And I thought, What an unexpected conversation. The potter was smiling; he could see my excitement. Then he added, “We take care of each other here. We’re like a big family. You’ll see.”
I understand his statement now: we take care of each other, and after reading Konnikova’s article, I know why folks are so happy in this area. Even with their hardships and sorrows, their focus is someone else—the persons they are generously serving. Maybe Christmas is a way of life in these beautiful hills.