Political and communications consultant Douglas MacKinnon worked as a writer in the White House for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush and became the special assistant for policy and communications at the Pentagon in the last three years of the Bush administration.
In his Christmas wishes for everyone, in a commentary in The Daily Caller, MacKinnon has remembered the greatest gift we can receive is by helping others less fortunate.
He describes what life was like for him as a child growing up in poverty. Together with his older brother Jay, and his younger sister Janice they suffered homelessness many times, as both their parents were alcoholics and very dysfunctional.
By the time MacKinnon was 17, the number of houses they had been evicted from had reached 34, many had no power or heat, which would add to their misery.
Christmas as a child had a very different meaning for him, as often it would be spent living out of their car.
“Despite all of that—and more likely because of all of that—I fell in love with the true meaning of Christmas at five years of age. It was then that I acquired a cheap little plastic Nativity scene. It included the wonderful little smiling face of the Baby Jesus,” he said.
“At five years of age, I did not know much about religion nor did I honestly care at the time. I was more concerned with finding enough leftovers to feed my little sister, my brother, and myself,” he said.
MacKinnon had help, however, and it came in the form of a plastic reminder of Christmas.
“But, there was something about that smiling face of the Baby Jesus in that cheap little plastic Nativity scene which did deeply touch me for some reason. So much so, that I began to talk to that tiny face. A face, which became my friend. A friend I could cry to as the darkness of our continual dysfunction swirled around us.
A few weeks after getting that little Nativity scene, they came to evict us out into the cold yet again. They found me hiding in a closet clutching that Nativity scene and the face of my new little friend, tightly to my chest.
Interestingly, those years of poverty and dysfunction never made me bitter or even sad. But they did activate and greatly expand my “empathy gene,” said MacKinnon.
He acknowledges that is was the discovery of books and reading that most likely saved his life.
“For a few minutes or a few hours at a time, the words of others magically transported me away from the cold, the hunger, and away from the everyday pain of our dysfunction,” he said.
“There was literally no greater gift I had as a child than the power of those words and books to transport my mind to better and happier places,” he continued.
Helping others is what MacKinnon says gives him the most joy at Christmas. Just helping someone on a personal level—even a family member or friend who may require comfort—is something we can all do.
“Through the course of my life—like all of us—I have loved and interacted with those who have lost a loved one, those who are quite ill, those who know only loneliness, those suffering from addiction, and those enduring memory loss,” he said.
He wrote a novel, “The North Pole Project—In Search of the True Meaning of Christmas.“
“In a Christmas novel I wrote, I sought to weave all of those lives together and give them a greater purpose in the unity of not only newfound friendships but the common cause of helping desperately poor children in need. That is the kind of Christmas I believed in. A time when, for at least one brief moment, we remember that the greatest gift we will ever receive is helping those around us most in need.