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Christmas Reflection

(Author’s Note: This article originally appeared in the December issue of Dateline-Ibalon. It is being reprised in my column in view of the yearly celebration of Christmas.)

Christmas is an annual festival commemorating the birth of Christ. One tradition that is practiced in all cultures during this Holiday Season is gift-giving. All over the world, families, friends, lovers, workmates and colleagues give gifts to one another.

According to tradition, gift-giving symbolizes the presentation of gifts by the Three Wise Men – Melchior, Gaspar and Balthazar – to the infant Jesus.

While many give gifts during the Christmas season to follow a grand tradition, others give gifts for different reasons.

Some people give gifts as a way of offering thanks for favors received during the year. Others do it to express their appreciation and love toward a person. Companies give gifts to valued clients. A few might give gifts to impress or show off, for example, to someone they are courting. Simply put, there are personal reasons behind why people give gifts, and their motivations vary.

However, there’s a form of gift-giving that people oftentimes forget when Christmas is turned into a commercialized festival. They forget the act of self-giving that started thousands of years ago with God becoming man and eventually sacrificing Himself so that others may be saved. That’s the liberating message of the Incarnation – God becoming man. That’s the meaning of Christmas for me.

Sixteen years ago, in December 2006, San Francisco native James Kim was trapped in the snowy Oregon Mountains with his family that included his wife and two young daughters, ages six years old and the other was just seven months.

The Kims had spent Thanksgiving in Seattle and were on their way back to San Francisco when they missed the turnoff and ended in a lightly traveled road amidst heavy snow.

To keep warm, they ran the engine of their car to power the heater. When they ran out of gas, they burned the tires. When the little food they had was gone, James’ wife breastfed her two young daughters.

After a week of being stranded, James, in a desperate effort to save his family, left them in their car to go look for help. Two days later, rescuers found his wife and two children.

Four days after his Herculean trek in search of help, James’ lifeless body was found not far from where he had left his family – a victim of hypothermia. The discovery marked the end of a saga that had been closely followed by the print and broadcast media in the Pacific Northwest.

Now, after 16 years, the media hardly mention the Kims anymore. The “news” is over; but not for me.

I don’t know why the story of James has left a deep imprint on me. I did not even know the man. It must be the circumstances of his death. It must be that we both have two daughters. It must be that at 35, he was at the peak of his career when he passed on.

No doubt, James’ only intention was to protect and save his family. Back then I remember people expressing the view that had he not left his family James would be alive today. That’s probably true. But life, unlike hindsight, is not 20/20. We make decisions based on what we perceive is the right thing to do at the moment.

I have no idea how the Kims have been celebrating Christmas during the last 16 years. Perhaps the family has moved on. His wife and two daughters have probably already found solace, inner peace and renewed hope that life can still be meaningful without their father.

For me, James’ story is what Christmas is all about. Here’s a father who was willing to give his life as the ultimate gift so that his family might live – truly a gift that his family will never forget and be perpetually thankful for.




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