As children, my sister and I were taught that as Christians, we observe Christmas to celebrate the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ. During our early years, both at home and in school, we were reminded that Jesus was born to the Virgin Mary, and after His birth, she laid Him in a manger, while the townspeople exchanged gifts, in honor of Him. Every year, we rotated between the homes of our divorced parents to experience two celebrations; a holiday shared in each of the homes we shared with our mother and father. In the weeks preceding Christmas, at each home, we decorated our tree with lights strung through its branches, garland to warm its core, ornaments to accentuate its beauty, and an angel adorned at its top. Our imaginations were boundless, as we shared fictitious tales with each decoration that we placed on the tree. Occasionally, our decorations would inconspicuously be relocated to other branches, since we habitually placed each ornament, candy cane, icicle, or other decoration within inches of each other, mostly within our reach at the base of the tree.
During the season, our evenings were spent touring neighborhoods, ours and others, in search of the best Christmas decorations, while the radiating heat from the car within sheltered us from the blistering cold outside. Those self-guided tours were never canceled due to inclement weather; we were simply bundled in many layers to safeguard us, with only our eyes and the tops of our noses visible, as we trudged through wet, heavy snow, sometimes toppling over with instability before we reached the car. With few exceptions, the best decorated homes were vivid with bright lights and an enormous, elegantly draped Christmas tree prominently placed near the window for passersby to marvel at its beauty. Usually, large gatherings of family and friends in seasonal garb of oversized, red Santa hats and, ugly sweaters could be seen caroling or laughing, as they congregated around the tree. Despite our concerted efforts, for my sister and me, the car ride secretly invited unwelcomed slumber, where we undoubtedly succumbed to sleep, only to wake the next morning, dressed in our pajamas and tucked in our beds.
On Christmas Eve, our parents indulged our insistent wishes to leave milk and cookies that were prominently placed on the dining room table, where Santa could retrieve them, as a small token of our appreciation, a gratuitous trade for his visit. Like many other naïve children, we envisioned that Santa would arrive during the wee hours of the morning, park his sleigh on the roof, slide down the chimney to our living room, eat cookies, drink milk, leave our gifts under the tree, shortly thereafter to ascend the chimney to the roof and vanish into the dark black sky. We never considered how Santa would have been able to park his sleigh on the roof with enough clearance to avoid the oversized, inflated replica of himself, his reindeer, and sleigh that my father displayed every year. Similarly, we never noticed that the never used fireplace pokers centered on the hearth, remained undisturbed with a light covering of dust in their shadows. Foolishly, in the absence of a fireplace at our home with Mom, we never inquired how Santa had entered without a key to open locked doors and windows, in order to consume our snacks or leave our gifts.
Every Christmas morning, we eagerly awoke, and while wiping the sleep from our eyes, we ran from our bedroom to the living room to swiftly open the pile of gifts under the tree. Our fatigued eyes quickly scanned the front of wrapped presents to locate our names. Our frantic trade of gifts could easily be compared to the flurry of exchange on Wall Street, after the ring of the opening bell. We hurriedly built a stockpile, a fortress, around us with our individual gifts to be opened with a nearby third pile for our shared gifts, which our parents always included, so that we would practice the valuable lesson of sharing. Eagerly, my sister and I tore through the packaging with wide eyes in amazement that Santa managed to deliver all those packages through the chimney or through locked entrances, as we slept. After we had opened every gift and discarded the wrapping paper, ribbons, bows, and labels, our eyes instinctively searched for evidence to confirm that Santa had indeed consumed the milk and cookies.
Following a short break to hand Mom or Dad their gifts from us, we raced to resume play with our favorite toys for hours, until we were obligated to shower, dress, and remain seated at the kitchen table for breakfast. Each parent always insisted on us purchasing gifts for the other parent and although we assumed their gifts were our selections, in retrospect, each parent planted seeds of ideas, which were rooted during our shopping trips. During the Christmas season, everyone was joyful and those times represented many things that we loved, but only experienced once per year. My sister and I enjoyed staying up late and sipping eggnog or hot chocolate, while singing or dancing to our favorite Christmas songs. On Christmas Day, we enjoyed multiple feasts, as we traveled to multiple homes, in order to celebrate with family and friends, who obliged that we partake of their holiday meals.
In our culture, the assembly of loved ones with the sharing of food is a manifestation of love, which has been passed down through ancestral generations, likely originating during slavery and realized in the modern era, as part of our family traditions. Throughout each visit, we were smothered in hugs and kisses from adults before we were ushered to the designated area for kids, which was often located in a corner of the kitchen or area in the basement. For us, the location was irrelevant; we were excited to play with other kids and share stories of Christmas morning, mainly bragging about the gifts we had received. It was a festive time for our family and friends to convene together, as we became completely engulfed in demonstrated love and the spirit of giving during the season.
For children, the holiday season is magical, encouraging them to dream beyond the boundaries of their familiar realities and indulge in a world of fantasy. Parents have an immense responsibility and an uncanny ability to nurture the imaginations within their children. Throughout childhood, and I ashamedly admit continuing into adulthood, I did not fully comprehend the significance of the authentic lesson that our parents imparted in us from an early age. The article or monetary amount of the gift is insignificant, as greater value should be attributed to the spirit of giving. Sadly, through commercialization, our societal celebratory expressions of gift giving have become amplified, whereas reverence for the true meaning of Christmas has been minimized.
As Christians, we freely give to others because Christ commands us to do so, in order that we may enjoy life more abundantly. I fondly remember those magical childhood moments and aspire to create special memories for other children, both known and unknown. An authentic desire to give is not limited to a season, however, our parents used the spirt of giving as a catalyst to teach us how to genuinely care for others. Creating lasting impressions for wide eyed, enthusiastic children for Christmas warms my heart and embodies the fundamental lesson that it is better to give than receive, as we celebrate the birthday of our Lord and Savior. Merry Christmas!