Difficult times make season for giving all the more important

Monday, December 15, 2008 | 6:00 a.m. CST

Most families have their own holiday customs and traditions. For example, some families visit one set of in-laws for Thanksgiving and the other set for Christmas. Others combine families and spend the holidays together. Some people always put up their Christmas decorations the day after Thanksgiving. I know one woman who always decorates on Dec. 1 , come rain or shine.

And then, of course, there is the matter of trees. Some prefer artificial trees, but only a live tree will do for other households.

Change in 2009: What do you want to see?

With the new year ahead, change is likely to be on our minds. Some of us think about changes promised by newly elected officials. Some of us ponder how to change ourselves for the better through resolutions. The civic-minded among us are likely to contemplate how to change Columbia and Boone County for the better.

This is an invitation to share your thoughts in the coming weeks with other readers.

Tell us: What kind of change do you want to see in 2009?

Submissions will be published at and in the Missourian starting on New Year's Day. All we ask is that you sign your name and provide a telephone number (not printed; just there in case we have a question).

To send in your submission:

FAX: 882-5702
Postal delivery: Letter to Editor, P.O. Box 917, Columbia, MO 65205

Questions? Send an e-mail to Jake Sherlock, opinion editor, at

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A neighbor always sat down on Dec. 5 and addressed her Christmas cards, took them to the post office and mailed them. I'm acquainted with one family who spends the first two weeks of December making candies and cookies.

The arrival of Christmas letters is one of the things I enjoy most about the season. People who are fortunate enough to still live in the same town as the people they feel closest to are extremely lucky. My relatives and friends are scattered throughout the country. We are all busy people, and we communicate mostly by e-mails and quick phone calls. The holiday season is about the only time we seem to stop and catch up with each other.

I know for some people Christmas letters can sometimes be a mixed bag. Most people feel as I do about hearing from friends and family. But there are often exceptions.

Several years ago I worked with a woman who lived in dread of receiving her sister's annual letter. This woman had a troubled life. Her sister, on the other hand, couldn't wait to share page after page of her own good fortune. Her husband had a great job and was constantly getting promoted, her children were excellent students and were always receiving awards and when she wasn't moving into a new house she was remodeling the old one.

My colleague would cry for two days after she received her sister's letter. She said it made her feel that she was such a failure.Whether her sister meant harm or not, the results were very upsetting.

Unfortunately, the Christmas letter is not the only source of conflict on these occasions. I know some couples who battle every year over which holiday they want to spend with which family. They have been doing this for years. No matter who wins the argument, tension hangs over the entire family until the holidays are over.

And then there is the matter of unwanted guests who always manage to show up every year uninvited. It can be a distant aunt, uncle or cousin who has no place else to go.

This year, with the economic crisis and so many people losing their jobs, it's likely to be a very stressful time for some. Loneliness is a large problem for a lot of people, even in ordinary times. When I think about it, I believe the separation among people began when the radio became a popular venue of entertainment. When people could go about their daily routine and hear the sound of another human voice they eventually began to settle on the fact that even though it was not someone they knew, at least they could concentrate on something ouside of themselves.

Before the introduction of radio, I remember my mother telling me about the days when women got together to do their ironing, their food preservation and to darn the family clothing. Once they got hooked on certain radio dramas they no longer felt the need for each other's company. After that came television followed by the computer and the Internet and video games. People became content to sit alone in their cubicles and the presence of another human being became a matter of indifference.

Families who are undergoing hard times because of job losses and general financial difficulties will appreciate all the help they can get from their communities and other individuals who are less affected. It's a good time to clean out cupboards and carry extra food items to local food pantries. Your children or grandchildren can clean out their toy boxes and donate their slightly used toys to charity.

The experts keep telling us that things are likely to get worse before they get better, so now is a good time for us to devote some hours every day to renew ourselves spiritually so that we can not only sustain ourselves but provide support and assistance to our friends and families.

As we all know difficult times came bring out the worst or the best in all of us. Lets try to prove that the blessings we have received as a people have enriched us to the point where we can rise above the temporary hardships and look forward to better days ahead.

In the end we'll not only feel better about ourselves but more hopeful toward the world around us. May peace and good will abide with us all.

You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen by calling her at 882-5734 or e-mailing her at

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