Thursday, November 28, 2013

Why I have the Ugliest Christmas Star

I have the world’s ugliest tree topper… And here’s why.

I love Christmas.  And I especially love decorating.  Everything looks so magical through the twinkle and glow of lights. However, Christmas decorating can be quite a stressful event for me. My type-A personality tends to creep up and often times makes me yell things like “You can’t put that garland there!” or “That ornament doesn’t match the theme!”

However, there is one Christmas decoration that graces our home every year that can be described completely and unabashedly hideous.  It doesn’t match any theme… it wasn’t handmade with love… it’s not a keepsake passed down from generations.  It is a Christmas star tree topper adorned with gaudy tinsel and plastic lights.  When the star is lit up, it glows like a beacon… there is no way to avoid noticing this little treasure. There was a poor attempt made to tear the price tag off the box it came in and what is left of the tag reveals that the tree topper is from the high-end luxury store, Family Dollar.

Despite the star’s obvious shortcomings, I can’t help but smile every year as I unpack the star from the box of Christmas decorations.  And I know that when the day comes that the little star stops working, I probably still won’t be able to part with it.

Several years ago, I was working at an after-school program for low-income and at-risk youth.  The community center that the program was held at was in a public housing apartment complex that primarily housed refugees.  This particular community center was the red-headed step-child of the community center family compared to its modern and well-funded counterparts.  It was nothing more than a large room with a sink, two fold out tables, and two archaic computers.  But that room became much more when everyone came together in it.

On Christmas Eve, a group of children came bouncing into the community center, yelling in Turkish and African accents, “Teacher! We got you present! We got you present!” They produced a poorly wrapped box and stood beaming from ear to ear as I unwrapped it.  The ugly star was staring back at me.  But as I looked up, I saw the faces behind the gift.  Their grins were uncontainable.  These children had nothing.  I can only imagine the excitement as they all pooled their little collections of coins and dollar bills and proudly marched into the dollar store to purchase their prize.

Every time I unpack that star and look at it, I don’t see the cheap plastic holding it together or the flashy gold tinsel, I see the contagious joy in the faces of those children that I was blessed to spend a year getting to know… those children that I will never forget.

And that is why, long after the star stops shining, I will continue to cherish it.  The star is a symbol of a lesson I learned from a roomful of children with ragged clothes and broken English. A lesson about the joy of giving and the humbleness of receiving.

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