Jesse Lakes' Holiday Cheer

I hardly ever have other guest bloggers (easiest way to lose readers is to introduce them to other better writers), but my friend Jesse's Christmas story was just too good to turn down. For any of you who don't know Jesse, he's one of my first good friends in the US and has been so through high school, college and our first (albeit unsuccessful) business ventures. Without further adieu, here's what Jesse did with his family on Christmas.

Holiday Cheer

The feeling had been building for a few years and it wasn't a good one.  I had been ruining Christmas for my family.  Our last holiday celebration with the whole family present hadn't been since my last year of college, four years ago.  Two of them were because I was in Colorado and it was nearly logistically impossible to make a family holiday possible.  This year and last I had plans to run off to have an adventure in the tropics of Costa Rica during late December.  This always forced the family to do a dinner and give presents in non-traditional way where ever we could fit it in. 

While attempting to find some lunch one afternoon in early December with my younger brother Cole, my sub conscious dread began surfacing. With family members scattered across western Montana and varying schedules and commitments it was a real challenge to celebrate Christmas on Christmas for even those that were still relatively geographically close.  Cole was expressing his concern that Christmas just wasn't how it used to be that my dread surfaced and hit me hard in the gut.  The pain that accompanies ones feelings of guilt had found home deep inside of me.  Cole and I discussed this sharing of a lack of excitement for the holidays until we reached our destination where we had planned to solve our superficial stomach pains of hunger. 

As we walked half a block from our parking spot to the door of the best burritos Montana has to offer we were briefly interrupted by a soft spoken man asking for some change.  Cole and I both being from a generation of plastic had empty pockets and didn't spend much more then the few seconds necessary to make sure that any change had mystically appeared in our pockets and letting our solicitor know that. 

Standing in line, having known what we were going to order already, our now random conversation ended with Cole asking if we should get the homeless man, that had previously solicited us, a burrito as well.  My preprogrammed response started to emanate from my mouth when my synapses made a random connection and I finished my response with a, 'Naw', and under my breath finished with, 'we can do something better'.

That brief moment of clarity for me was a perfect culmination of years of thoughts, curiosities and lack of follow through. 

It was a few days later that I once again, years later, hit a high with excitement of the holidays.  It was that day that I sent out emails to my immediate family with a plan to do something together before I left the country.  Another series of emails included my Christmas gift wish list to my mom, brother, pops and my step mom.  Each of my individual lists included just one item that I wanted from each person along with questions of what they wanted or knew something that another person had wanted.  Consumer intelligence gathering at its finest.   

The high lasted all day long and into the next but the following couple weeks I became consumed in projects and making the details of my adventure happen and my holiday excitement moved to the backburner.  Upon my request no one was allowed to go overboard with the gift giving or dwelling on the details on my vague request for our family holiday activity.  I got quite a few questions on my sincerity of my gift request as well as concerns about my requested quantity but responded with more vague answers and a smile.

Thursday, a few days before I was to leave the country, the plan called for us all to meet at my favorite Missoula deli, Wordens, late in the afternoon.  Each person was to bring their gifts for me and be ready to make the most of our 'Christmas' together.  By Wednesday my giddiness returned and by Thursday afternoon it had become a full on ear to ear perma grin.  Cole quickly noticed this as we were making out way to our rendezvous spot and started badgering me on what we were going to do.  I simply replied with an analogy: The feelings of excitement that he had now was like when you wake up too early Christmas day with too much anticipation to fall back asleep.  I didn't want to ruin that and wasn't going to tell him. 

After everyone had congregated and greetings were exchanged everyone's patience was rewarded with a brief summary of what we were and what we were going to do.

My life and that of my family has always been good.  We have all had our hard times for sure but all in all we all have a very blessed life. We were all in great health, live in warm houses with more then enough food in our refrigerators. Each of us also has more toys then we knew what do with or time to use them.  As with most in our culture, for my family the concept of Christmas typically equals consumerism and a big family dinner in order to be labeled as a 'Happy Holiday'. 

This year I was determined to bring what Christmas should mean back to my family.  I had gathered us all in order to give, but not to each other but to those who really do need it.  A few weeks prior, I had contacted our local homeless shelter and soup kitchen and volunteered my family to an afternoon of wrapping presents for those who weren't able to wrap a gift of their own for a loved one and to help prepare and serve a warm meal to those who battled the bitter cold that had so tightly gripped the Missoula valley. 

It was great watching smiles grow and even a few eyes twinkle and wink out a little excess moisture on my families faces as I explained my plan. 

Each person did as requested and brought their gifts. For Carla it was 'wrapping paper, and lots of it, and maybe some tape too'. Cole was requested to give ketchup, mustard and mayo. Salad dressing from Pops and from my Mom I wanted juice.  I gave peanut butter and jelly. The quantities requested were simply enough to last me a couple months.

With a new sense of excitement and some apprehension, none of us had ever volunteered for a homeless shelter before.  We crossed the snowy street with our arms full of boxes heavy with what we had considered condiments but were the very much-requested essentials that were needed at our destination. 

We started off with a greeting of disbelief and then were ushered into a brief tour of the facilities that provided the backbone to those who had fallen on hard times in our community.  After being educated on how crucial volunteer help and donations were in the constant battle to continue to provide invaluable help to the community we moved to the kitchen (seems that there were quite a few people who felt the need to do some good and the gift wrapping project had a handful of sorority girls making things happen).

The next hour was spent peeling and cutting carrots, potatoes and onions.  Our eyes were wide open taking in our surroundings and making friends then squinted tight as the pungent onion project brought to surface the excitement we had in helping out. 

Serving was the real treat.  Everyone who made their way through the line was so polite and grateful for the food.  The tables were packed and the holiday cheer was in full force as the community's inhabitants without a warm house of their own came together to give this shelter a true feeling of home.  The 'rush' kept us all busy and the time flew by.  By the end of evening we had worked together as a team and a family to provide a warm dinner of spaghetti, soup and vegetables to nearly a hundred people.  We had also collectively contributed over a hundred dollars of food to those in need through the homeless shelter. 

After exceeding our allocated time helping out anyway we could we said good bye to our new friends grabbed our coats and stepped out into the freezing streets of Missoula with warm hearts in search of dinner and a drink of our own at our favorite local bar.  It was a consensus that showed in everyone eyes that the Holiday request for my family was a good one and that my feelings of ruining Christmas were nonsense. 

I challenge you all to take a step out of your comfort zone and do something this year that stretches your normal ritual of a happy holiday.  It's the best possible gift you can give yourself, trust me.

-Jesse Lakes