We all have our Christmas traditions, whether it be travel to our hometowns, a special dinner or maybe a quiet afternoon at home. It doesn't matter what it is, really.
I mean, seriously, there are a great many homes in America where after a wonderful morning watching the kids rip through the bounty left under the tree, it's just another relaxing day watching a movie or maybe an NBA game.
At my house, we have a big event on Christmas Eve, a traditional Cuban Noche Buena celebration with music, food, friends and fun. Christmas Day is a movie and then dinner. Very low-key when compared to the night before. Every year about this time, I spend some time thinking back to when life was easier. Before mortgage payments, college funds or a parent's failing health became some of the most important things day to day. Inevitably, every single year I think back to Christmas Day 1988.
Christmas in the '80s were simple for myself and my very tight-knit group in Miami. My cousins and I would open gifts at home, then meet up late morning for breakfast. No parents. This was our time. Denny's, IHOP or whatever else was open was it. Those breakfasts became legendary, but that's a story for another time. Christmas 1988 wasn't about breakfast, it was about what happened afterward that has stuck with me forever.
A young lady I was dating at the time asked me to call her after I was done. She wanted to go for a ride if I had time. Sure, no problem. I figured we were going to stop by her parents' home for a few hours. Instead, she picks me up and drives to her own townhouse. Not exactly what I had in mind, but OK. I can hang for a while. Inside that townhouse were boxes of food. On a table were reams of brown paper bags.
"I want to take some food to the needy," she says. I figured it was to a shelter, maybe the Salvation Army or something similar, but I didn't ask. "Sure, let's do it," I replied.
We spent a good amount of time that afternoon putting bananas, oranges and other assorted food items in those brown bags and putting them in the boxes. Next, they were loaded into the car and off we went. The area we drove to was downtown Miami. The heart of downtown Miami, actually near the school where we had met.
It wasn't uncommon back then to see homeless people lining the streets downtown. Same as any big city, really, but we saw them all the time on our way to or from school.
"Let's just start passing these out here," she says. Stops the car, gets out and starts walking up to some people laying on the sidewalk, handing them tiny bags of food and saying, "Merry Christmas."
Well, I didn't really need a road map or an invitation. I joined in almost immediately. For probably the next two hours, we drove up one inner city street in Miami and down another. Underneath interstate overpasses, climbing through some bushes. We drove around until all of the bags were gone. The looks on some of these people's faces were the kind you never forget. Sure there were those that turned down the bags, a handful, but for the most part there was surprise, there was excitement and there were smiles. The kind of smiles that stick with you now, 26 years later.
For us, it was Christmas Day. For these people, it was merely Dec. 25, 1988. A Sunday.
That's my personal reminder every year that someone is alone today. Someone is living on the street. Someone is suffering through something horrible, through no choice of their own.
Would I recommend anyone taking deliveries into their own hands like we did that afternoon? No, probably not, but there are any number of ways you can help.
Food banks like America's Second Harvest, Feed The Hungry or the Salvation Army can use anything you want to bring them, be it in the form of money, canned goods or your time. It doesn't even have to be on Christmas, but taking some time to make someone smile like that is something you might want to consider one day.
The good cheer is bound to last a lifetime and who knows, might become a family tradition.
Merry Christmas to all ...