Presence: The Best Holiday Present!

I don’t know if you’re like me but the magic of the holiday season seemed to pulling a “disappearing act “ lately.  This year I haven’t been feeling the spirit.

It’s a combination of things.  I lost my mother Mitzi in August; and my beloved step-dad, Bunny, last year.  It also has something to do with the kids.  I have six beautiful kids and am so proud of them.  But they are all busily growing up, several of them now launched into their adult lives.  It’s a bittersweet feeling to watch them take flight – joyously strong, but – sadly for me – quite able to do without me.

Christmas intensifies both the joy of love and family, and the wrench of separation.  Miraculous and terrible things happen during this season.  Famously, suicide rates spike during the holidays.  But between these extremes, I wonder if the process of the holiday – the planes, trains and automobiles, the shopping, the petty fears and anxieties we feel about seeing relatives, friends and loved ones with whom we have unresolved issues – actually disrupts their fundamental power to redeem and refresh us.

Sometimes, the holiday routine just takes over, like an unwelcome guest in our home, disrupting the family bond with those we love.

I’m not the only one at my home feeling this way.  Getting ready for the holidays, one of my kids told me NOT to buy her a present this year.  She said gifts don’t mean anything to her.  I nearly burst into tears!  How could they not want a Christmas gift from their mom?  Then one of the younger boys perfunctorily gave me a list, as if I were running out to go grocery shopping.  Ironically, at first, my boy’s brazenly materialistic attitude – pretty normal for a boy in his early teens – reassured me.  “At least one of the kids still needs me!” a little voice said.

Upon reflection, my thoughts and heart settled on one idea.  Each of us, if we are lucky, struggles at holiday time between presents and “presence.”  Especially if you are in North America, we sometimes get lost in our weird obsession with material expressions of love, and the increasingly more elusive prize of being “present” – mindfully, compassionately, and spiritually giving of ourselves to others, whether they be loved ones or complete strangers.

My conclusion: Whatever object we give each other during the holidays, it will fail as a present if given without our presence.  Indeed, the most miraculous thing of all that I see is the love that sometimes flows between utter solitudes – people who have no other reason to give to each other but the impulse of goodwill that flows at holiday time.

Imagine if we were better able, throughout the year, to give our hearts to each other, with no expectation of return.  Able to give our most jealously guarded interior gift – the gift of being present to, mindful of and lovingly disposed towards others.

I am not advocating we abandon holiday gift-giving outright.  Indeed, taking a moment to reflect on the occasional contest of material vs. intangible giving, made the gift hunt much more fun.  Who cares what I buy the kids?  It makes me feel good to buy them stuff; and if they are in the spirit, even a lousy gift is fun to receive.  So today, I joined countless of other souls at the mall and put my heart and soul into getting things I thought my family would enjoy!  I hope if your experiencing anything similar you reach into your own heart and capture the magic of gift giving.  It’s a wonderful magic to find it again.

In this spirit, I realized this week I have a gift for all of you, who have enriched my life more than I can say.  As many of you know,  winter holiday and other parties are a very challenging for people on the autism spectrum, especially little ones.  Several years ago, I wrote, How to Plan the Perfect Party, a little book for my little boy and his friends, and their families, so people would understand how to include him in the fun.  I hope you will enjoy this book and put it to use to help your child or friend with autism to fully participate in holiday festivities.  I hope it will help you create wonderful, unforgettable memories.

Much love and joy and MAGIC for the holiday season.


Karen Simmons

Founder & CEO Autism Today

Chicken Soup for the Soul, Children with Special Needs

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