Editor's Note: The Herald found 12 days of things you can do for yourself, your family or for others to make this Christmas just that much better. Columnist Andrew Dys starts us off with a reminder of what this season is truly about.
There is a new name for Christmas. What Christmas was, is -- and is supposed to be.
Remembrance of a couple without a nickel, homeless to boot, and so broke a donkey had to give them a lift. Turned away from a cheap motel, the pair slept in a barn where a baby was born, with the donkey and probably a sow and surely a lamb looking around and wondering just what was going on.
Today, Christmas is a time that can repel -- at least long enough to fill a belly or find a daytime roof for a child -- the reality of how broke you are, or how broke somebody you know is. How tough times are. How much the world's heel of an economy, punctuated with the word "bailout" that rewards big-shots with millions while sending working people to soup kitchens, has ground you into the muck.
Actually, Christmas in York County has three names: Maggie Adams, Patrice Nichols and Akira Hemphill.
Mother, daughter, granddaughter.
Each attends Christ Deliverance Church on Ogden Road, a tiny place of huge dreams, where a pastor and magician of goodwill named Alvin Murdock Jr. feeds hundreds of people hope and food on a budget of almost zero.
It is a church once pastored for so long by a giant of a man who stands 5 feet 4 inches tall named W.T. Massey. Nickname, "Dub." One of the Friendship Nine who spent a month in jail in 1961 for the crime of being black and wanting to eat a hamburger where whites ate.
That man, instead of turning from that Lord who got him through those 30 days in jail, became a pastor for people like Maggie Adams and Patrice Nichols and Akira Hemphill.
That church has no manger, but it sure isn't much bigger and it has brought almost as many miracles, too.
Maggie Adams has lived on Baker Street in Rock Hill's Sunset Park neighborhood since 1953. She was a restaurant cook all her working life. She bought her five-room house for $2,400, a few dollars a month at a time. She lives in that house today.
The word "pension" does not exist in her home. She worked forever and the term "fixed income" sure applies to her because Social Security is fixed so low there is no basement.
Yet through all those years, with nine children of her own growing up in that house, the place was swarming with neighbors. And strangers and stragglers. Anybody who hadn't eaten or didn't have a place to sleep.
Christmastime to this day, Adams is buying clothes, gifts, shoes for people who are not her family. She cooks and delivers meals to neighbors who are shut-ins -- and anybody else who is hungry. She is 78, this Maggie Adams.
"I was just raised that way," said Adams. "That what I had, even if it wasn't much, belonged to the people of the Lord."
Patrice Nichols, her daughter, said growing up in her mother's home meant anybody was welcome anytime -- not just at Christmas. Nichols grew up and continued to help her mother. Then, she started a day care 15 years ago. In this time of parents with kids struggling to make ends meet, Nichols cuts her rates so parents can work, kids can eat, kids can be loved.
If there were little or no money, the door was never shut in the face of a couple no different from Mary and Joseph and a little baby whose name everybody claims to know so well.
"It's tradition in my family to serve others who need it," Nichols said.
And now comes Akira Hemphill, Nichols' oldest daughter. Model-beautiful, bright and engaging at 22, she could be on fashion magazine covers or in the board room of some big business.
The dawn finds her working in her mother's day care instead.
Then, after a day's work, she's the wheels to help her grandmother buy the groceries that feed the neighbors and strangers who need a meal. She's helping provide the food, and the child care, that bring hope to so many in a bleak economy.
"Helping others is what we do," said Hemphill.
The next fleeting days will find so many of us challenged to bring to our families what we have come to expect Christmas to be.
But take a minute to look outward and see an angel.
Look to places like Baker Street and Ogden Road and Christ Deliverance Church. Find the Maggie Adams, the Patrice Nichols, the Akira Hemphill in your own life, and see Christmas jump in front of you so you can hug it.
Then look inward, and remember the greatest gift any of us has to give is right there within ourselves. It costs nothing but love, and that giving spirit is always there if we look long enough.