As far as I’m concerned, the only way to Christmas gifts is to follow the tradition I grew up with. It was a perfect tradition because it didn’t follow the calendar.

When I grew up, if I needed a new pair of underwear for Christmas, it didn’t matter how many shopping days were left. My mom just went to the store, bought them, and threw the package into my room, all while yelling, “Merry Christmas.” If there were any presents left, as we neared the big day, we’d
always open them Christmas Eve. But over the years, opening hour came sooner– until the “Night Before Christmas”rapidly became “the Morning Before Christmas.” However, no matter when we opened gifts, we would always begin with my dad reading the Biblical Christmas story followed by a prayer. During
the prayer, we closed one eye, feigning a moment of religiosity, while keeping one eye on the gift to be opened first.

Posed like runners on a block, we awaited the prayer’s predictable conclusion. As Dad enunciated the first syllable of “amen,”hands were poised over the gifts; as he pronounced the second syllable, paper was flying.

Ten minutes later, there was a “scheduled hold.”The delay came because my mom would run out of gift tags and there were, inevitably, several mystery packages. My mom would take a minute to examine or shake a package before she might say, “Here, Norris, I’m pretty sure this one is for you.” Sometimes her memory served her well, but sometimes I opened packages filled with my sister’s underwear.

Growing up with those memories presented some challenges when I first went to my wife’s home for Christmas. Her family was steeped in tradition and rules. My mother-in-law never forgets a gift tag, but she often forgets where she hid that special gift for a grandchild.

My mother-in-law has always been the gift distributor deciding who got which present at what time. When your moment came to receive a gift, you must begin by reading the gift tag and the accompanying mush or poem.

Then, following a time-honored ritual, you must raise your gift above your head and comment on the pretty paper. To substantiate your compliment, you must exercise great care in unwrapping the gift — all
the while swearing your intentions to preserve the paper for next year. You are encouraged to mix compliments about your current gift with recollections of gifts from previous years wrapped in the same

By the end of the gift-opening marathon, (one year we took a break for lunch and a nap) the bins are full of paper because my mother-in-law individually wraps every item. If you get a remote control car, you
get the car, the batteries, and the remote control in three separate boxes.

Somehow through 25 years of marriage, my wife and I have found a way to honor both family traditions, as have most of you. This leads me to a question:

If we can make it through the quirky traditions and expectations of our in-laws then why is it so hard for us to understand other traditions? Like for instance, why a woman wears a certain headdress or why a man walks his family to Temple on Saturday or why a couple declines alcohol at your holiday party.

As a chaplain I’ve wrapped crystals to wrists, put healing blankets on the bed, burned incense and put garlic under the bed. In doing these things, I find that there are many different cultures that all express the hope of “peace on earth and good will toward men.” We tend to let the different cultures, traditions and languages of our community create a barrier for us in a way God never intended.

We need not know every culture, but we can show a determination to “know them in our hearts.”We can resolve this New Year to find appreciation for those who come from different faiths, traditions and
nations. In making such a resolution, we renew the principle that melted and molded us into a nation.

To make such a resolution does not mean we have to forfeit our Christian beliefs, but in a world that is fighting so much over differences, I think it is up to many of us to find, and find quickly, our similarities.