84: No Pressure

84: No Pressure

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas in Canada

No Pressure

The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree: the presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other.

~Burton Hillis

When my son James was still very young he came home from school one day with one of his first crayon drawings. He had drawn our family of three sitting at the table with a giant Christmas turkey on it. The huge turkey covered the entire table; it looked like it must have been on steroids! Beside the table stood a Christmas tree gleaming with lights, complete with presents underneath it. Because it was only September, I was puzzled by the timing, so I asked James why he had drawn a picture about Christmas.

“The teacher asked us to draw a picture of something that made us happy,” he explained. His simple answer brought real joy to my heart. As a young father, I felt there was no greater gift than to bring happiness to your children at Christmas. In my case, my son’s words strengthened my heart, and let me know I was on track keeping a solemn promise I had made to myself some years before, when I was a young adult and my parents had recently divorced.

The first Christmas after the divorce was the first that my parents would be separated by geography. My mom was living in Burlington in Southern Ontario, and my dad was living in Sault Ste. Marie in Northern Ontario. Both were lobbying hard to have me spend Christmas with them. It was clear to me that they were motivated by more than Christmas spirit. It was a competition, and the one that snared the only son would be the winner.

But the problem with having a winner is that someone has to be the loser. In this case, the loser would be one of my parents. I knew my choice to spend Christmas with one parent would break the other’s heart. Instead, I would spend Christmas alone.

Christmas morning I woke up by myself in my small one-bedroom apartment. At the time, I worked at the local YMCA and so I had keys to the building. The Y was closed for Christmas, but I went there anyway and let myself in. To kill time alone I picked up a basketball in the gym and started shooting baskets. Basket after basket, I tried to forget that it was Christmas Day, but I just couldn’t. It was then that I made a promise to myself that if I ever had a son of my own I would always put his happiness first at Christmas, and never, ever, cause him to feel the sad emotions I was feeling this Christmas.

My resolution was put to the test many years later when my son and his wife had to make their own decision, with three choices: visit her mother, visit her father, or visit us. Remembering my solemn promise to myself, I let him know I wanted Christmas to be a happy time for him and his family. We told him he was always welcome to come home for Christmas, but if it turned out he needed to spend it with either of his wife’s parents, that was okay with us. We let him know we understood that you just can’t be in three places at once. To our surprise, my son and his young family showed up at our home for Christmas. It was totally unexpected, and turned out to be a Christmas that we all cherished. Our Christmas kindness and understanding made our son and his wife decide that this was the place they wanted to be. By letting go, we were rewarded with the great joy of spending Christmas together. It proved to us once again, that the greatest gift of Christmas is not from what you receive, but it is from what you unselfishly give.

~Chris Robertson

Stoney Creek, Ontario

More stories from our partners