My daughter is currently living and working in Bangkok, Thailand so will not be coming home for Christmas. As the company she works for has closed its offices for a couple of weeks, leaving a skeleton staff to organise things, ie her and her laptop, she has decided to travel back to the animal sanctuary she once volunteered in a few years back.
Reading her messages, seeing her photos in the sunshine, surrounded by streetdogs and listening to her plans to organise a party for the local children made me think back to when I was travelling at Christmas time in Israel.
Israel was a country I had always wanted to visit. I was at a loose end so decided with a couple of friends to pack the backpack once more and go.
We stayed on a kibbutz for about 4 months and one of my jobs was to work in the communal laundry and also to sort apples in the processing plant. I remember planting a new orchard in the mud, catching chickens at 2am when they were sleeping, to take them to market- I was vegetarian for about two years after that and also making lavender sachet bags with the older ladies of the kibbutz, whilst they all nattered away in Hebrew.
We were a group of “Christian” volunteers in a Jewish country but they made such an effort to respect this special holiday and so we were given the day off and driven to Bethlehem to see the various sites just before Christmas Day itself. Apparently on the 25th December, it becomes a bit hectic and goes into lockdown so we went just before.
Every volunteer was given a present- a pair of socks. Believe me, when you have been walking around in mud-encrusted clothes for months and the “best” clothes you have are the ones you picked out from the donated pile and then customized, you are deeply grateful.
Each volunteer had their name read out, and there were at least twenty of us, then we went up and received our special present. It’s not much- a pair of socks but they had cared enough about us and our beliefs, to show a bit of respect and tolerance towards us.
That to me, is the best present we can give- tolerance, time and respect to others.