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The forest and the trees of Christmas

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image Calvary Lutheran Church members Bob Walsh, Joan Frantz, Dennis Frantz, Sherry Janovec and Mert Janovec in front of one of two double garages filled with bicycles, gifts for 724 children they will never meet. Photo Mitch Traphagen

A small church congregation makes Christmas brighter for 724 children...and their parents.

By Mitch Traphagen

It seems the Christmas sales begin earlier with each passing year. And this year, what was once considered a sacred American holiday was violated in the rush to spend! spend! spend! and fight for bargains. Christmas, many people lament, has become too commercial and has lost its true meaning.

Perhaps so, but only if one sees simply the forest without noticing the distinct beauty of the trees.

The pictures may show a pickup truck and a utility trailer but look closer and then close your eyes and imagine a sleigh. The members of Calvary Lutheran Church, numbering approximately 700 souls, made Christmas immeasurably brighter for 724 children. The gifts they purchased nearly filled a MiraBay town home and the 152 bicycles they purchased filled two double garages.

All are gifts for children they will never meet.

The happiness of 724 children is almost certainly palpable. It is so great that it can reverberate around entire communities, making them better, making them happier. If you notice a distinctly warm and happy feeling in our little corner of the world in the coming days — and I’m convinced you will — that happiness will come at least in part from all of those children. And another part will come from their parents, relieved of what could only be described as an utterly painful burden of not being able to provide gifts for their children at Christmas. Even children know that there is more to Christmas than buying stuff, they can feel the warmth and the love that exists this time of year. They can revel in it. But there is also nothing like seeing a brand-new bicycle or the doll that you could never have imagined would one day be yours. It is all special.

Mitch Traphagen Photo“A lot of kids are going to have a better Christmas,” said Mert Janovec of Calvary Lutheran Church.

In its essence, Christmas is all about the ultimate gift given to those who choose to believe. And what the small congregation from Calvary Lutheran Church has done is in direct, human reflection of that — they have given selflessly. They have made an impact so large that it will reverberate around an entire community. The qualifiable element far supersedes the quantifiable element. The buying was secondary; the congregation, and numerous businesses and other organizations, have chosen to walk the walk. In doing so, the entire community benefits.

They can close their eyes and imagine the laughter and the smiles. They can imagine the tears of joy and relief from parents who in their struggle could not otherwise afford gifts for Christmas. In giving, they will also receive that priceless gift of merely knowing and imagining the little feet running to a Christmas tree, the little feet madly pedaling down a street.

Certainly buying so many gifts, or even any gifts at all, is a commercial activity. Although they began in October, they joined in on the crowds at big box stores and shopping malls for Christmas spending. But that isn’t the whole story; that is merely the forest while the beautiful trees reveal a much different picture. Such selfless acts give life to the entire season and carry well beyond it. It is a gift in best sense of the word.

Calvary Lutheran Church is located at 5309 U.S. Hwy 41 N. in Apollo Beach. For more information, visit www.calvarylutheranchurch.net

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