In 2009, when I was broke, and we were just starting our business, I felt completely miserable around the holidays. I’ve always loved Christmas (how can I not, with a dad who is Santa Claus!)

I didn’t have much money to buy things for my family — specifically, my nieces. And it gave me such an overwhelming feeling of shame that I dreaded going to see them for Christmas.

Irrational thoughts like, they won’t love me as much as their other aunt, and what if they ask me why my presents were so lame? Of course none of that happened, and they didn’t even notice my lame presents, so I think they love me anyway! At least they still run to hug me when I see them!

But, I didn’t want to tell anyone in my family about this fact. I tried to keep up appearances, and since I was still trying to figure out life (faking it till I made it), and more specifically #adulting, I didn’t want to talk about my money problems.

I just wanted to get to a better place. And the only way out — was through.

For the past couple of years, I have been in a better place, and I believe the struggle has been worth it, and the hard work is starting to pay off. So, the shame is receding, and along the way I found a Christmas tradition.

. . .

Two Christmases ago, I discovered a young single mother with 4 daughters that was struggling to make ends meet. I spent some time with all of them one evening, and as the oldest was recovering from a seizure — a common occurrence for the 8-year old — I held the third daughter in my lap.

While I held her, I realized something sad, and had I not been there to experience this, first hand, I would likely have never realized with such clarity: These girls weren’t going to have the kind of Christmas my nieces would. And, this led me to another thought: maybe there was a way to make this Christmas a little more magical for them.

I asked a friend who knew the family well if he could get me a Christmas list for each of them.

And Operation Christmas Magic began.

Instead of giving Kate, Anne, Mary & Maggie something that would end up in a pile of other beautiful presents, I found out what each of the girls in this struggling family wanted and bought them the presents on their list, and wrapped them up and gave them to the mother to deliver on Christmas day, from each of my nieces.

It was a special experience. I shared the story with the girls on Christmas Eve, there were tears, and a very special feeling that made the Christmas spirit very real for all of us.

This Christmas will be the third year, and the family we’re blessing with Christmas magic is one that is close to my heart.

There are days when we’re struggling only to keep ourselves alive, and then, as if by magic, the work we do starts to lift us, and we’re no longer down in the pits of despair.

I am so blessed — for so many reasons, it’s my greatest joy to know that my blessings can help spread some Christmas cheer — not just by giving cool presents that will make me the “coolest aunt.”

But by giving where there is a certain need, and spreading that message into the hearts of those I love.

I am eager to learn from you — what are your Christmas traditions, and how do you create Christmas magic in your families?

Also published on Medium.

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