RAMBO Asks: Christmas is here in Zambia. I don’t have presents to give to the kids. Tell me what can I do. Maybe you are able to help me make the kids happy, and other people here in Zambia.
Hi RAMBO –
I have to confess, I live half the world away from Zambia, and don’t know anything about where to shop or find toys and games there.
But as a dog, I am an expert on finding ways to make people happy, without the ability to buy or make much of anything. In fact, my human friend Handsome often tells me I am the Christmas spirit, all year round (at least to him).
So let me throw some thoughts at you.
First of all, remember that the Christmas story is about people so poor they had nothing but clothes and a donkey to ride on, who were so oppressed by their government that their unborn child’s life was in danger, and who weren’t even given a room at an inn when they were about to give birth, and so had to use a feeding trough for barn animals as their newborn baby’s crib. Yes, some kings and wise men showed up with some nice gifts for the infant (though what exactly he was supposed to do with frankincense, myrrh, or even gold is beyond me!), but these folks had nothing.
Nothing but love.
There are many great stories where the most precious Christmas gifts are the ones from the poor, from The Little Drummer Boy to The Gift of the Magi. The fact is, although advertisers and media will tell you that what kids need most is lots of expensive products, what matters far more is what they feel from you. This is why they love us dogs! We give them absolutely nothing to play with (I tried to give Handsome a dead squirrel once, but he showed no interest in playing with it at all; in fact, it kind of scared him when I dropped it at his feet!). But we give them attention and goofy, boundless love all the time.
Still, that doesn’t mean you can’t give your children a wonderful and magical Christmas. Here are some ideas off the top of my big-eared head:
- Decorate the house for them. These days, we have this merchant-created concept of a “Christmas Season,” where everything’s decorated up for two months, which removes a lot of the magic of the actual Christmas. The older tradition is to decorate the home on Christmas Eve, and best of all to do it after the children go to sleep, so they wake to a magical scene. You can do lots with simple decorations, though of course if you can possibly get a tree in there, that’s so fun! (But beware of us dogs and cats – trees are VERY inspiring, to acts you may not wish in your home!)
- Have a Christmas party with lots of games. Charades is always fun for people, or some board game your kids love. In Handsome’s family, they play a game on Christmas Eve where someone tells riddles, usually as poems, where the answer is someone in the room, who then gets a very small gift. Silly, but they love it.
- Of course, a beautiful feast makes any holiday all the more special. Different cultures have different traditions, but I’d say that, with this holiday, you want the most traditional and festive meal possible. (And don’t forget to give some to us members of the family too – though please don’t give us chocolate, onions, or the bones of any fish or fowl, as those are dangerous for us!)
- Homemade Gifts. Sure, shiny new things from stores are exciting, but nothing means as much to a person as a gift made with love. Have you ever heard a song called “Coat of Many Colors,” by the singer Dolly Parton? It tells a beautiful story from her childhood of her mother giving her a coat she’d sewed together out of scraps, and how much it meant to her, even when other children teased her for it. Anything you can create will mean way more than the most expensive store-bought toy.
- While it’s nice to have boxes to open, who says what has to be inside? What if in one box your daughter finds a coupon for “One Day Fishing with Dad,” and in another, your son finds “One Trip to the Movie of Your Choice with Mom.” What about offering to fix their broken bicycle, or paint their bedroom a color they choose? What about helping them plant a garden in the yard, and they get to pick the seeds out?
All of these ideas have one thing in common: YOU. Parents often forget, while they consider their children the greatest gift they could ever receive, that they also are their children’s greatest gift. And while I couldn’t wish more that you have good fortune, and next year are able to afford the toys you want to give your kids, nothing will ever mean more to them than you, your love, and the connection they feel to you.
If you can master giving your children that, RAMBO, you will have learned a great deal more than most humans.
There was another great singer named Nat King Cole. Here in the US, we hear his voice a lot at this time of year, singing a pretty song about the magic of Christmas, with chestnuts roasting on an open fire (YUM!) and holly and mistletoe and such. But I think you’re on the verge of another one of his greatest hits, a song that says, “The Greatest Thing, You’ll Ever Learn, is Just To Love, and Be Loved in Return.”
That’s what we dogs are all about. That’s what Christmas is all about. And that’s what you can do, brilliantly, for these children so dear to your heart.
Merry Merry Christmas, my friend!