by Annette Bridges

One Christmas long ago, I discovered a priceless treasure in giving the gift of gratitude. My family has a long tradition of watching Bing Crosby’s White Christmas on Christmas Eve, and a song from that movie, “Count Your Blessings,” is a holiday favorite. One line is for me a humble reminder of that Christmas more than three decades ago: “When your bank roll is getting small, just think of when you had none at all, and you’ll fall asleep, counting your blessings.”

I was 10 years old the Christmas of 1968. My mom and I were traveling west from Georgia to escape the wrath of my dad after their divorce. We had little money, no income, no home, few clothes and no toys, and we were separated from other relatives. We spent Christmas hiding out in a trailer park.

We got a tiny Christmas tree. We had no stand, but we found a way to hang the tree from the ceiling. We had no decorations, but we strung popcorn and made paper garland.

It may sound gloomy, but I often think back on Christmas 1968 as the best of my childhood. I think my mom would say the same. But why?

By all appearances, we were in danger. We were living in a perilous time in bleak conditions. And yet my memory of that Christmas is a peace-filled one and, yes, a joyous one. I can’t tell you what gifts I got, although I’m sure that my mom managed to put a few under the tree. But I can tell you this much: We were safe, we were happy, we were expectant of a brighter tomorrow, and we were grateful to be safe and together and to have the promise of a new day.

Christmastime in any age brings the promise of a new day, a new birth, just as it did centuries ago. But Christmas 1968 became the special memory that it is because of the gift of gratitude my mom and I gave each other. In everything we did, in every moment we spent together, we were grateful. We were grateful for present moments, and we were grateful for whatever tomorrow would bring. Gratitude helped us to see what was right in our lives instead of what was wrong. And now, every year, I’m reminded that Bing’s advice to count your blessings is a good one, and not just at Christmastime.

There is a hymn in the Christian Science Hymnal that speaks of a grateful heart. Three verses describe the grateful heart as a garden, a fortress and a temple. A grateful heart is a garden of comfort and peace that dispels anxiety and fear. A grateful heart is a fortress replacing feelings of helplessness and vulnerability with certainty and hope. A grateful heart is a temple of strength and courage that brings expectancy for better things.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, I have found that I give much more thought to what I am grateful for in my life, in my family, in my community, in my country. And I am finding that gratitude is moving me in directions I never considered before. Gratitude is shaping my decisions, my attitudes, my ideas, my actions, in ways that are more productive, more open, more unselfish. And gratitude is empowering me and inspiring me to look forward to each new day.

Try it. Give the gift of gratitude to yourself. And share gifts of gratitude with family and friends. They may be the most precious you give this year, and the most memorable.

Originally published in the Dallas Morning News, December 2002.  ©Annette Bridges. All rights reserved.