By Norris Burkes t
Dec 17, 2017

My wife and I have very different childhood Christmas stories.

Her professional-class parents (a minister and a schoolteacher) somehow managed to stock their Christmas tree with a boatload of gifts wrapped in a flurry of fluffy bows.

Their tradition called for each person to open gifts one at a time while raving over the beauty of the paper and speculating over the mystery of the contents. The entire event was such a gift-opening marathon that it often included a lunch break and a nap.

But when I share my childhood Christmas stories in public, she looks away. She knows that my family afforded very few luxuries. We were so poor that while other families were counting their presents under the tree, I was counting ribs on my underfed body.

I might be exaggerating, but still she’s disheartened to hear how my father nixed Christmas during my preteens. That’s when he announced that since Christmas had a pagan beginning, our family would no longer buy a Christmas tree or the accompanying accoutrements.

My dad allowed limited giving of necessity items on Christmas Eve, such as socks, underwear and pajamas. I now know that he was simply covering the embarrassing truth that we were sustained on the meager salaries of his part-time pastorate and my mom’s secretary job.

Becky says that my childhood Christmases sound too depressing to be shared in a holiday column. However, I don’t remember them as destitute. In fact, they caused me to more deeply cherish the most meaningful gift my father passed to me: faith.

It was a faith strengthened many times during our frugal Christmases as my dad read and reread the story of the frightened village girl who heard the news of her pending pregnancy from an angel.

These days, I prefer to recount the first chapter of Luke’s gospel in “The Message” translation of the Bible that reads as follows:

“God sent the angel Gabriel to the Galilean village of Nazareth to a virgin … Gabriel greeted her:

″‘Good morning! You’re beautiful with God’s beauty. Beautiful inside and out! God be with you.’

“She was thoroughly shaken, wondering what was behind a greeting like that.

″But the angel assured her, ‘Mary, you have nothing to fear. God has a surprise for you: You will become pregnant and give birth to a son and call his name Jesus. He will be great, be called “Son of the Highest.” The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David; He will rule Jacob’s house forever — no end, ever, to his kingdom.’”

This simple story of Mary and Joseph teaches us how to give of ourselves. It celebrates the holiday season, not as one in which we receive gifts, but as one in which we become the gift to those in need.

So, as you sweat last-minute gift shopping and harried holiday cooking, take a breath to inhale the meaning of this simple story.

It will likely have a little different meaning for each of us. However, my story reminds me that despite my family’s inability to afford the latest, greatest gift, we were able to find ways to give sacrificially of ourselves.

Finally, just one more sad childhood story. When I turned 10 years old, my father also put the kibosh on Halloween because of what he saw as another pagan celebration.

I’ll admit that my Halloween hiatus is partially responsible for my amazing dental health today, but it also makes my childhood sound like a never ending visit from the Grinch. Nonetheless, my wife says I must spare you the heart-wrenching details. After all, it is the season to be jolly.