Worst Christmas, Best Gift

Some years ago I almost had the worst Christmas ever.

I won’t get into details, but there were many things going wrong.

Life is not always easy and Christmas is not always merry. And when lots of things are not going your way, it’s easy to loose sight of the ones that are.

Then, just four days before Christmas, on my birthday, my 16-year- old daughter gave me a little present. I opened the neatly wrapped box to find a framed picture of both of us, a remembrance of a trip to New York in brighter times. Over the glass covering the photo she had written a message in permanent marker: “It gets better”. And included hugs and kisses: XOXO. I realized that things were gray but not pitch dark. I was fortunate in still many other ways. Annie’s gift gave me perspective.

Annie's giftThat picture, and that phrase, got me through Christmas. It did get better. Over time, much, much better. There have been other hard moments since then, of course, and the little framed picture has always worked its magic. My daughter had taught me a lesson on resilience.

Merry Christmas! Happy New Year! When most people say these phrases, they want to convey their good wishes for prosperity and well being. But, what happens when the world around you is dark? Difficult times do not usually take a break for the holidays. Sometimes they even get worse, precisely in December.

Did you know that suicide rates actually rise over Christmas?

This season, some of my kids from school will be mourning a lost grandparent or older sibling. Another one will be dealing with her parent’s ongoing divorce. Some families will be struggling financially.

I think about my students and all the stories I know – and the ones I don’t – and although I can’t wrap up resilience and present it as a gift to them, I wish that they, too, had a nice framed picture of themselves and precise words to remind them how special and strong they are. It doesn’t matter if most of them are not going trough a storm just right now –sooner or later, they will.

There’s something powerful about being able to see yourself at your best. Somehow, it kind of shows you the way back there. Heartfelt words like “You are able to achieve your dreams”, “Life is tough, but you are tougher”, “You are talented and bright” and “This is you, at your best” can really work wonders. At least, they did for me.

The best gift I would love all my students to have is the ability to find peace inside themselves – regardless of what is going on outside. Then, no matter how dark the world might get, their souls will always find a way to shine.


As part of Cathy Rubin’s Top Global Teacher Bloggers, this is my answer for this month’s question: What’s the best gift you would recommend for your students this holiday season?