My mom worked hard to make Christmas happy and special for me, but it wasn’t easy. My family was what I would now understand as extremely marginalized, and we experienced the kind of deep poverty that creates a grinding, helpless feeling for children who wind up worrying about things that no kid should have to think twice about, like what (or whether) they’ll eat, or whether there will be enough money to make it to the end of the month.
But my mother always sleuthed out places to get presents and groceries and turkeys. It looked like Christmas Magic to me as a kid, but it was really community support and the work of organizations that put in a lot of effort to make holidays happy for families like mine.
When I was 13, I received one of these Christmas Magic presents through a charity that my mother signed me up for. Thinking back on it through grown-up eyes, they must have asked her for a few details about me, and then set out to find things that I would like based on my interests. It was a wrapped shoebox filled with professional-level art supplies of a kind I’d never seen before, not only because they didn’t sell anything like them in the malls in my neighbourhood, but because they were definitely in the “we can’t afford this” price range. It also had some very fancy toiletries, and best of all, a pass for two for the Art Gallery of Ontario.
I felt seen and valued, but also so mature getting this present. This wasn’t just a box of crayons or a pad of construction paper. These were materials that real artists used, and they were for me. And not only would I be making real art, but I could also go downtown and see it for myself. That box of items from a stranger who knew nothing more about me than “13-year-old girl who likes to draw” felt like a set of keys.
The next year, my first year of high school, my new best friend and I went to the Art Gallery of Ontario with those passes. I used the set of art pencils all through high school, and even in university, where I studied studio art and art history. Of course there is so much more to the story, but that gift mattered. It was definitely part of a set of blessings and encouragement and support that I feel incredibly grateful to have had, and to have still.
I do wish I could thank the person who gave me such a thoughtful and life-changing gift at the absolute perfect time for me to receive it, but I like to think that their example has meant just as much to me as the present itself.
As you are giving this Christmas, I invite you to think about how your generosity can invite someone into newness: recognizing not just the need, but the person, and being willing to know you may never receive a thank you for what you’ve shared, but to share it anyway.
Roxanne Wright lives in Toronto, Ont. with her family, where they attend Toronto United Mennonite Church. This reflection originally appeared at HiddenAcres.ca.
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