Every year I read Christmas stories to my children each morning for the twelve days of Christmas, and then on December 23rd we read stories and sleep under the Christmas tree for Christmas Eve Eve. It’s one of our favorite Christmas traditions.
One story that always gets read on the build-up to Christmas Eve Eve is a story called "The Year Of The Flexible Flyers" written by Aney B. Chatterton. This story was published in The Ensign magazine in 1984.
Aney talks about the Christmas of her girlhood during the Great Depression of 1932 when the children didn’t dare hope for anything for Christmas. But all the parents in the town bonded together to get them their hearts’ desires: new, Flexible Flyer sleds — and the perfect Christmas. The community changed after that day. No longer were they concerned about the economic crisis. Instead they were united as families and as neighbors in a spirit of gratitude. We cry every time we read it because the story is so beautiful.
At the end of the story there is a part that is incredibly profound to me every time I read it. She wrote, “When the snow finally melted and it was time to store the sleds, we were reluctant to part with them. We clung to them as a child clings to a favorite blanket. They had given meaning to our lives and provided us with a sense of identity. That terrible monster, the Great Depression, no longer seemed such a threat to us.”
The sleds the children received were symbols of the love their families had for them and for the Savior. They knew they were part of something bigger than a holiday. They were part of families, part of communities, and children of God.
Where Does Our Identity Come From?
When children are small they start wondering who they are and who they will become. Historically, teachers and parents have taught children who they are and where they came from by teaching them about family roles and God. Who we are isn’t like choosing a career or what we wear, it’s much more complex than that.
Who we see ourselves as makes a big difference in how we choose to live our lives and what we see as the most important things in life. Who we see ourselves as leads us toward our school choices, our career choices and our life choices. Identity precedes other choices and happy living. People who don’t know who they are have miserable lives. With the confusion nowadays about who we are, it’s not surprising that suicide rates are ever increasing. But, who we are is not a choice like a career. It’s not that simple.
I think this profound story about children getting Flexible Flyers for Christmas during the Great Depression sheds light on where identity comes from and the role family and God play in that identity.
There is a great book by Natan Sharansky called Defending Identity. In this book he says that the only way he made it through his 11 years in The Russian Gulag (where they tried to manipulate him to retract his statements that were rooted in his identity as a Jew) was to focus on the truth he knew. He said his family and his God were the source of his identity.
Think of Christmas. What is Christmas about? Family and God. It’s a time that literally makes us who we are. It gives us purpose for our lives.
Think of the people who sacrifice so much to bring Christmas joy to those who might not have it. Why would they do this? To give entitlements? No, to make the time of year that fuels our identity for a lifetime wonderful and meaningful. To act Christlike and loving, which reminds everyone the reason why Christmas is Christmas. It is His day and His time. Not only does Christmastime strengthen families and devotion, it also gives us purpose to our lives. As we remind ourselves of the true meaning of Christmas, we’re filled with determination and purpose to live better, do more and love more each day.
We become who we were intended to be. We find our identities.
Knowing Who We Are Makes Us Free
There is a common saying that says, “The truth will set you free.” Knowing who we are to God and to our families is truth, and it sets us free.
Natan Sharansky said, “Identity is regarded by an increasing number of intellectuals and public figures as an antagonist to freedom, as a source of conflict, and as a threat to peace. Yet the idea of a pitched battle between the forces of freedom and the forces of identity is entirely alien to me. I can read books and articles suggesting it is true. I can hear eloquent rationalizations explaining why it is true. But I know it is fake. Not only are strong identities vitally important to individuals who hope to lead a life of purpose, they are essential for the ability of a democratic nation to defend its cherished freedoms. Far from being enemies, freedom and identity are staunch allies in the struggle against evil.”
Remember this Christmas that it really isn’t about the money or the gifts, it’s about the sacrifice of time and love and the sacrifice of our Savior. Make memories on purpose this year. Those memories are helping the children, and maybe even the adults, develop strong and lasting identities that will help them live lives of purpose and happiness.
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