By the time I was 13, our Christmas became more about a way to dole out necessities such as socks, underwear and pajamas than about surprises.
By my mid-teens, our family stopped buying Christmas trees. Giving was limited to the exchange of single gifts of necessity on Christmas Eve.
Since many of my childhood Christmases were likely celebrated a little above poverty level, my wife says I shouldn’t mention them in a holiday column. She remembers a different kind of Christmas. While her family wasn’t affluent, her parents – a minister and a schoolteacher – surrounded her and her siblings with multiple packages wrapped in fluffy bows.
I wasn’t there during her childhood, but I know what her Christmases looked like because she’s brought them into our family tradition.
For the past 25 Christmases, our combined families bring a boatload of gifts to the Christmas tree. Traditionally, the person opening the gift is obliged to note the beauty of the paper and comment on the mystery of the contents.
Once unwrapped, bows, paper and ribbons are placed in their respective recycle bins. The whole event can be such a gift-opening marathon that sometimes we’ve actually scheduled a break for lunch and a nap.
It’s not really such an overabundance – it’s just that her family appreciates the color and wrapping of Christmas so much that they wrap every item individually. Say, for instance, a grandchild is given a remote-control car. Normally, my mother-in-law will wrap the car, the batteries and the remote control in three separate boxes.
While my wife says my childhood Christmases sound a bit deprived, I don’t remember them that way. In fact, the recession we find ourselves in has caused me to more deeply cherish the most meaningful gift my father passed to me – faith.
It was a faith recounted 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.
I love how “The Message” translates that moment from the first chapter of Luke’s gospel.
“God sent the angel Gabriel to the Galilean village of Nazareth to a virgin … Gabriel greeted her:
“‘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.’ ”
The simple story has a way of reminding us all that the reason for the season isn’t so much about receiving gifts as it is about the giving of ourselves.
For if you celebrate the Christmas story in its full meaning, you are obligated to follow it through to its finale of giving, Easter. For it isn’t until Easter that we can see the original Christmas gift wasn’t gold, frankincense and myrrh but the sacrificial gift of God himself.
So while this Christmas you may not be able to afford the latest game console or the largest diamond, we may want to consider the ways in which we might give of ourselves in sacrificial ways.
Oh, by the way, when I was 10, we stopped doing Halloween, but I’ll spare you that sad, sad story. After all, it is the season to be jolly.