I'm an only child from a big family.
Growing up, my family lived pretty far away from the rest of my relatives, so every holiday season it was off "to Grandmother's house we go" -- not in a sleigh through a picturesque winter landscape, but in a car, driving anywhere from six to fourteen brutal hours across the American midwest. Both of my parents come from pretty big families, and so Christmas and Thanksgiving have always been the time of year when I'm thrust out of my comfortable, quiet family unit of three and into a circle of countless relatives. I joke with friends of mine that only children are tyrants. There are pros and cons to this: con - if you are an only child you don't share dishwasher duty with your siblings a few nights a week. You do it every night of the week. But on the flip side, when there's a child's birthday in the house, every present is for you. I guess what I'm getting at is that these early Christmases were the first time that I ever really remember watching other people open presents, the first place where I learned about giving and receiving in the context of a community. The first place where the principle of "it is better to give than to receive" ever made itself evident in my life.
Of course, now I'm a grown-up, and so I don't just receive presents, I give them. In fact, I have a lot of fun every year trying to find the funniest gift, or the coolest one, or the one that people will really remember for more than just a month. I think these kinds of holidays are a way to celebrate each other perhaps as much as whatever is that our particular family tradition suggests we reflect on at this and other times of the year. And our family and friends are very often the easiest people to celebrate. What I've been reflecting on this holiday season, amidst a world in which tragic events surround us and frighten us, amidst divisive rhetoric that tends to suggest people who aren't from our tribe, whatever that tribe looks like, aren't worth our time or our energy or even our charity is: how much harder it is to celebrate the people we don't know.
And I've been reflecting on what the world looks like for lots of children who don't get a share in the kinds of privileges that I grew up with. About a world where none of the presents are ever for them. Where every year the holiday season comes and goes, and it's never their turn at the table.
Which is why, this month, I'm glad to be here at Elastic. Don't get me wrong: I've been glad to be here, because we build a product that an enormous community of folks out there in the world are using to try to solve problems for all kinds of companies, companies that build apps that are used by all kinds of people. I've been glad because I work for a super distributed company which celebrates and hires people of many creeds from many different places, and because I finally work somewhere with a crack analytic team that might be able to solve one of life's biggest mysteries and tell me which White Elephant gift is really the most bang for my buck.
More than all that, though, I'm also extremely proud: we've capped off a series of tour stops around the world where we raised nearly $150,000 for 9 local charities each with a concentration on boosting STEM (science, technology, engineering & math) programs for underserved youth. I lead a Women of Elastic brunch here in our Mountain View office (another blog post for another day, that), and we ladies challenged ourselves to double down on our own philanthropy efforts this holiday season. "I just don't believe any child should ever go hungry," said one of our most tenured Territory Managers. But she doesn't just say it, she lives it, and she's the one who set up a donation drive in the office for a local food bank which wound up providing 3,240 meals. Canned food drives are great, don't get me wrong, but at wholesale rates, most food banks can really stretch the dollars of any donation, and it was fantastic to see just how far we were able to go. Our men of the office, not to go unmatched, led a Movember campaign that raised over a thousand dollars towards this worthy cause. Our User Success Teams around the world regularly engage in organizing everything from charity walks to pet shelter days.
And in December, our Mountain View and London offices rallied around getting loads of gifts for underprivileged children locally:
It was my job, last week, to pile all these gifts into my vehicle and haul them over to the warehouse where they'd be wrapped and delivered. In addition to each present, the respective organizations we worked with in both Mountain View and London asked that we provide each child with a new toothbrush. Imagine that: a toothbrush. A colleague of mine suggested having his own children shop for the gift, so that they, too, get to participate in this paying it forward to strangers who may never see our faces or even have an opportunity to reciprocate our generosity.
So I'm glad, and I'm proud, and I'm also thankful. It's been a long time since I've gotten to be that child I was writing about a few paragraphs before, looking at a pile of presents, wondering who was going to get what, and every time I walked through our lunch room last week, I had the privilege of revisiting some of that community spirit and some of the incredible wonder that children have. And I got to marvel about how for as much as things change (there's several iPod Minis in that pile), the more they stay the same (there's also a simple red tricycle).
Most of all, though, I get the privilege of spending this month with a bunch of incredibly smart folks who have decided that this year not only will we celebrate each other or even our company: we're going to celebrate these kids we don't know and who we may never going to get to meet. We're going to make sure they, too, get a seat at the table. We're not very big, and we can't do it all, but there's a quote I like that this type of stuff always makes me think of, attributed to Edward Everett Hale:
"I am only one; but still I am one. I cannot do everything; but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do."
Somewhere out there is a family who got one extra meal because we made the effort to make it so. Somewhere out there, a little boy will wake up over the holidays, and perhaps there will be a tree, or perhaps there won't be one at all, because maybe trees aren't what his family is into. In either case, there will be a box with his name on it. He will tear into it with the excitement and the anticipation that I so clearly remember, and inside there will be a shiny red tricycle that somebody else got, just for him, for no other reason than the fact that he, too, is deserving of delight.
Whatever tradition it is that you celebrate, happy holidays from the folks here at Elastic. May we all keep finding the little somethings that we can do for the communities we know, but also for the ones that we don't. Enough of those little things, all piled up together, might look like the trunk of my car, overflowing with gifts.
It might also look a little bit like Peace on Earth.
Kristina Frost is a Manager of Strategic Sales Operations at Elastic.