The Christmas season has always been a magical time of year for me because of the twinkling lights, the crisp, white snow, and the warm feeling of spending time with friends and family. Christmas is also a time to celebrate the season of advent, waiting and building excitement of Christ’s coming into our world, bringing light, hope and love to a hurting people. Christmas has been and always will be my favourite season because it is a season of hope, love and joy.
When I began working with The Salvation Army two years ago, the Christmas season took on a whole new level of activity. From Thanksgiving weekend until Christmas Eve, my days were filled with Salvation Army Kettles, planning holiday events, Christmas Parades, Toy Mountain and more. Within all the busyness, I relished the opportunity to share the wonders of the Christmas season, and the message of hope, with individuals and families in the Ottawa area.
This most recent Christmas season was nothing like what I had expected it to be. The COVID-19 pandemic impacted every aspect of planning for 2020, and the constant changes to restrictions made it difficult to plan too far in advance for larger scale events.
Facing the reality of a very different Christmas, our team focused on ways that we could make the holiday season meaningful for local families with smaller initiatives instead of our traditional, large-scale events.
One area our team focused on was bringing the joy of Christmas to families by providing artificial Christmas trees alongside the Christmas hampers handed out by Community and Family Services. In total, we procured over 100 Christmas trees for local families.
As part of the Public Relations team, I wanted to be present as the Christmas trees were distributed in order to hear and share stories of how The Salvation Army was brightening the holidays of people receiving assistance. Little did I know the significant impact those stories would have on me not just professionally, but also personally.
As I spoke with families as they received their Christmas tree, the story I heard again and again was that without the support of The Salvation Army, their family would not have had a tree, presents or a traditional Christmas dinner. On more than one occasion, a parent had said they were going to skip Christmas because they could not afford all the things that go along with it.
While I knew that there were many local families who receive assistance from The Salvation Army either with food, clothing, educational supports, or spiritual support, I was naively unaware of how something that I take for granted, like a Christmas tree, was a luxury that some families could not enjoy at Christmas.
My own Christmas tree took on a new meaning for me; the twinkling lights reminded me of how Christ’s birth brought light into the world and into our lives, and every time I put a present out or hung a new ornament, I would remember the hope, joy and love a Christmas tree could bring.
This Christmas, although it was unlike any I had experienced before, reminded me of what Christmas is truly about. There was no fancy parties or big gatherings with friends; this year we focused on simply being with those who are closest to us, showing love and support in a difficult time. We were able to focus less on all the items that are traditionally tied to Christmas such as shopping for presents, or big gatherings with friends. This year echoed the very first Christmas; a family gathered together without fanfare, supporting each other with love, joy and hope for what was to come.
By Heather Prystanski