This is a Christmas story about a woman named Vivien.
Vivien was widowed three times in her life and spent a good deal of her time, love and energy raising her little boy as a single mom in the 1940’s and 50’s.
Widowed without money shortly after the great war, Vivien brought in less than $100 a month to make ends meet in a small apartment. Often, there was not enough food to feed herself, but always ensured that her little boy had healthy meals. Sacrifice and struggle was an every day factor of life.
Religion was not an integral part of the household, though she always made sure that a small Christmas tree was decorated in the apartment yearly, that carols were sung, presents were opened and love abounded. It was important that he was not seen by friends in school as an outcast, it was important that he felt the spirit of love, harmony and generosity.
The 10 year-old boy saw that many kids were attending churches and synagogues, and he learned about the birth of Jesus and the great story that followed. Once, her boy asked, “Mommy, what religion am I?”
She hesitated and replied, “Well, son, you can be any religion you wish, there are many. Someday, you must study them all and then choose.”
While Jesus was not a focus of celebration in the family and the little boy was never brought to a church, the elements of spirituality and love existed in Vivien’s home no less than in any Jewish or Christian home. Far away grandparents and other relatives sent small gifts, long distance phone calls were placed, music was played and choirs sang outside the windows while Vivien and her son sang with them.
Vivien taught her son to send cards and gifts — however small — to others who loved him, even herself, because it was important to learn that generosity was a two-way experience, that it was just as rewarding to give to others as to receive.
From those teachings, and because of Vivien, the little boy grew up feeling more joyous from giving, than from receiving. She taught him that it was okay to be religious and just as okay not to be religious. She showed confidence in his nascent intellect, that he could eventually make educated choices of his own, without dogma.
It didn’t matter if the holiday was called Christmas, Easter, Chanukah or Valentine’s Day, the important thing is that one day is set aside by our culture, our country, our people, in which we all stop and take the time to tell — and show — others the blessings of love and kindness. There are too many human beings in the world who lack those essential elements of life.
And so, the little boy grew up without a religious label, though he did endeavor to learn all he could about the world’s religions. The more he learned, the more he understood his mother’s message, that love and goodness comes from the heart and the teachings of wise and caring mentors. He learned that love is not a product of a book, or an ancient icon or a religious figure, but of having the good fortune to have a mother like Vivien.
He learned to love Christmas for the message, not the messenger.
She was a wise and caring woman, indeed. Thanks, Mom.