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InspirEmail No 124 - December 18, 2007
'Inspirational messages to refresh the spirit and boost the emotional bank account'

Christmas Olympics . . . Let the Games Begin!

Our daughter Shanna believed in Santa until she was 9. Santa seemed to represent all things Christmas yet Shanna felt sorry for him. She was sure that a jolly old fella like himself would feel sad that mail only arrived in December so she began corresponding with Santa every January for the next 11 months, purposely excluding December and asking only for his friendship.

I was inspired by her. After years of trying to figure out a way to change our superficial model of Christmas to one with more meaning, surely I could follow the lead of my young daughter to create a Christmas tradition that would take the main focus off gifts.

My criteria was uncomplicated but needed to cover the things that were important to our family:

1. Make it more about family and togetherness than gifts.
2. Include everyone of all ages.
3. Fun.
4. Memorable.

Our family has come to know this unpretentious event as Christmas Olympics.

It begins right after lunch on December 25 with the gong of a bell which prompts last year's Olympian to run though the house proudly wearing the cheap plastic olive leaf wreath on their head while carrying the makeshift torch (a wooden stick with a hand drawn flame) . . . happily donated when our three kids were still toting crayons.

Christmas Olympics is a great way to make sure that the very young and elderly stay as involved in the occasion as everyone else because they also choose a game they're good at.

While many people spend the 5 days before Christmas on shopping, my family are extra busy gathering 'things' for their game or researching 'party games' on the internet and that's half the fun!

The games each person chooses remain top secret right up until the moment they are designated to start their game. Each person's game time is indicated simply by where their name happens to be on the paper that tracks the game points. Christmas Olympics after all is meant to be fun with few rules!

If you have 5 family members, each game earns a player a point score from 1-5, depending on the position they ranked in a game. The following is a small sampler of some of our many Christmas Olympic games;

  • Poop the Potato - which really means hop around a table with a potato between your legs and while facing everyone, plop it into a bowl on the floor.
  • Orange peeling contests - the longest unbroken rind wins and everyone gets treated to a fibre break from candy and chocolate.
  • Snow golf - one or two holes on a short course (use food colouring around the hole)
  • Staring contests
  • Memory games - read a meaningful or funny short story and ask questions later. It's really astounding how well adults don't listen!
  • Guess how many jelly beans, loonies or quarters - winner gets points and the jar!
  • Spin the coin - the longest spin wins.
  • Card or dice games of chance.
  • Find the Apple Pot - blind folded, crawl along the floor smacking a wooden spoon to find a pot filled with water and an apple. Retrieve the apple with your mouth. This is timed. You can get creative by using a soft tomato or marshmallows (if someone has bad knees or back, place it somewhere on the counter)
  • Guess what's in the sock? - each sock holds an item of a family member. Contestants get a single 10 second feel, 1 hint and only 2 guesses.

At the end of the day we've laughed, created memories and crowned the Olympian with the coveted but tacky plastic head wreath and surprisingly, everyone is always proud to wear it.

We all thank Shanna for seeing things differently from the rest of us and having the courage to act on it. Our kids, though now young adults are just as excited about the afternoon of December 25, as they were when they were kids. Let the games begin . . .

Written by Monique Howat

Monique Howat is a youth motivator and the founder of Confident Girls and Guys. She presents self-esteem and character building workshops at elementary and high schools in and around the Toronto area in Canada. Monique offers training on the principles of self-esteem, public speaking, coaching for parents or teens, leadership for women and consultation services for at-risk youth programming.

December Featured Inspiration

White Envelopes

It's just a small, white envelope stuck among the branches of our Christmas tree. No name, no identification, no inscription. It has peeked through the branches of our tree for the past 10 years or so. It all began because . . . read the full story >>>

Secret Santa

The man had just filled his car with gas; he was cold, wet, and ready to head for home. He opened his car door and bent down to climb inside . . .

'Sir, sir . . .'

He glanced in the direction of the frail voice to find a well-dressed, elderly lady attempting to get his attention.

He closed the car door and walked towards her. 'Can I help you, ma'am?'

The older woman explained that the gas pump was not working properly, and asked if he knew what she was doing wrong.

'These are new pumps and very touchy - even for me. I've found the easiest thing to do is forget locking them while I fill; they keep shutting off for some reason.'

'Oh my! I can't keep pressure on that handle until my tank is full. My hands don't have much strength in them anymore.'She cast her blue eyes to the ground in frustration.

'I'd be honoured to fill your tank for you!' The man's Texas accent was gentle and he gave her a little wink. 'By the way, I love your British accent.'

'Yes, a British accent in Texas . . . people always notice!' She smiled. 'We just came to the States a few years ago. That's my husband in the car.' She paused for a moment, 'He has Alzheimer's now.'

'I'm so very sorry for both of you.' After a slight lull the gentleman continued. 'Why don't you get back in the car while I do this; the snow is picking up and you're going to get wet.'

She was a lovely woman with snowy-white hair; her attire was prim and proper as one would expect from a Brit. 'I'd rather visit if you don't mind. Our son is out of town for Christmas; he's with his wife's family this year and I'm feeling a bit blue.'

A knot formed in the Texan's throat and he hoped to change the subject. 'Just what are the two of you doing out in this weather? I hope your drive home is a short one. You know these Texas drivers aren't the best when it comes to snow and sleet,' he teased.

'We're on our way home from a Christmas party. The medical centre has one each year for the Alzheimer patients. They are rather like children's parties -and they have Santa visit. Oftentimes patients will have moments they recall things from their past. Some sing along to Christmas carols when they haven't carried on an actual conversation in quite a long while.'

'Did anyone recognize Santa today?'

'Oh, yes, my husband recognized Santa and tried to steal his hat! He even said, 'Ho, ho, ho - Merry Christmas.' His recollection was rather brief but it was the highlight of my day.' She grinned.

The gas pump clicked off, the woman swiped her credit card to make payment, and turned to thank the man who had been willing to help her. The two were saying their farewells when the squeal of brakes, a thud, and breaking glass at the intersection caught their attention.

'Oh, my!' The lady whimpered with a distressed expression. 'It's getting so slick. I've got to hurry and get home.'

'Ma'am, I'd be honoured to follow you in case you have problems.'

She hesitated momentarily and then appeared relieved, 'Oh, I'd be so grateful. I can't thank you enough. And by the way, my name is Margaret.' She reached out to shake hands with her new friend.

'Margaret, I'm pleased to make your acquaintance. My name is Ray.' He patted her hand gently before they released their grasp. 'You just drive slowly; I'll be right behind you.'

When Margaret pulled into her garage Ray stopped curbside. 'I just want to be sure you get inside safely,' he shouted.

Margaret waved and asked him to wait for a moment - then nodded and spoke to her neighbour hanging Christmas lights. She guided John into the house, quickly reappeared in the garage and motioned for Ray to pull into the driveway.

She thanked Ray again and soon mentioned this being the first Christmas she and her husband had ever spent alone. Ray, always a soft touch for older folks, was happy to listen. She spoke fondly of traditions her family adhered to when she was a child in England and revealed an interesting glimpse into her past . . . plus a taste of her cherished memories from across the pond.

'You know mistletoe is very traditional in England. My first 'real' kiss was under the mistletoe when I was a teenager. Oh, what memories I have.' For a split second, Margaret looked like a young girl again.

Several minutes passed before Margaret began to shiver and they were forced to say farewell.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Christmas morn found Margaret peeking out her front door just as the sun crested the horizon. She stepped outside, instantly clasped her hands like a small child, and peered up and down the street. With not a soul in sight she began to examine the items discovered on her porch . . . each one dredged up memories of years gone by in Merry Old England.

Just above her head hung an arrangement of mistletoe adorned with elegant lace; she touched it gently. Bedecked with Victorian ornaments, a small, lighted Christmas tree sat in the corner - beneath it a homemade mincemeat pie wrapped securely and tied with golden ribbon. The card attached said only, 'From: Santa.' Hanging from the doorknob a brilliant red Santa Claus hat with tag, 'To: John.'

Margaret called to John; he slowly made his way and stepped outside. Nothing on the porch sparked his interest until Margaret placed the Santa hat in his hands. After staring at it and stroking the velvety softness, he plopped it onto his head. It sat askew but John's face beamed as his voice rang out across the neighbourhood, 'Ho, ho, ho! Ho, ho, ho!'

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Parked several houses away, a Secret Texas Santa sniffed and wiped at a lone tear . . . a happy tear. 'Merry Christmas and God Bless.' He smiled and drove towards home.

Written by Kathleene S. Baker

Kathy resides in Plano, Texas with husband Jerry, and two precious pups, Hank and Samantha. She enjoys writing, needlework, and fishing. As a freelancer, she has contributed to newspapers, anthologies, magazines, online ezines, Chicken Soup for the Soul and writes a weekly column entitled The Heart of Texas.

- Inspirational Quote -

The less you open your heart to others, the more your heart suffers
Deepak Chopra

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