12/20/2013 09:59 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

A Christmas Tail: Rescuing the True Meaning of the Season


I pulled into the Target parking lot, stopped the car and rolled down the windows just a wee bit. My legs were stiff from driving for hours and hours without stopping. Walking briskly into the store, I headed straight to the pet department. As if I was one of Santa's elves, I was a woman on a mission. I needed to find a little fleece jacket for the homeless dog I was delivering to my mother-in-law, Maria.

A week prior, the sweet, little Havanese mix had been rescued from under a car outside of Mission San Buenaventura, in Southern California. Six people were required to capture this adorable, collarless, stray pooch. An angel named Marie had scooped up the emaciated ball of greasy hair and bones and taken her home. Planning to bring her to a canine rescue facility in a few days, she happened to ask my husband if he knew anyone who was interested in a dog.

Speaking on the phone and seeing the picture of this little piece of heaven, my husband and I knew the perfect recipient.


My mother-in-law has suffered more loss in her life than most. Born and raised in the hills of Calabria, Italy, at the age of twelve her father died and she began caring for her four siblings, as her mother went to work. She has buried two husbands and many other loved ones, including dear friends. Living alone is quite difficult when a person is older. Maria is quite spry, but life slows down when much of your social cohort has passed away from this world. Loneliness is inevitable.

After a quick conversation with Nana, where she immediately agreed to take the dog, I began to plan my Christmas surprise. I would travel five hours to deliver the dog to Nana on the following Sunday, after keeping her for a few days to ensure that she was well-behaved and suited to the life that Maria would provide.

The three days "Peppinella" spent with my family were divine. She got along splendidly with our dog, June. All she really needed was to cuddle to keep her bony body warm; she was an absolute joy.

My sons were filled with rapt attention in anticipation of Nana's impending merriment. It is important to my husband and I that we model a loving relationship with their last living grandparent.

Research has demonstrated that pets, particularly dogs, offer great social, emotional, and physical benefits for older persons. Pets have been found to lower blood pressure, lessen depression, fight loneliness and provide a sense of security, among other benefits. Surely, this sweet, little dog would help Nana's overall quality of life.

With a pink, puppy-sized jacket in hand, I returned to the car. Placing a big, purple bow on Nana's soon to be best friend, I traveled the short distance to her home. Having parked around the block, I sneaked up and rang the doorbell. Especially surprised as she hadn't heard me in the driveway, Nana took one look at Peppinella and a new loving relationship instantly began.

In all of this, I must say that I rediscovered the blessing of Christmas. As a Christian, I am celebrating the birth of the Christ Child. In this spirit, I reclaimed that which I have lost in recent years of doing too much and worrying about a perfect celebration.

"to give up one's very self

to think only of others

to bring the greatest happiness to others

that is the true meaning of Christmas"

~The American magazine, Vol. 28 (1889)

Wishing each of you who celebrate this holiday, an opportunity to rediscover (if you have forgotten, as I) the true meaning of the season.