What Christmas is Really About

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When I was a kid, each year before Christmas, I wrote a wish list for Santa in red-and-green-colored crayon, asking specifically for three things: world peace, eternal happiness, and love for all mankind.
It was a letter written from the bottom of my elementary school heart, one I assumed was being hand-delivered to the bearded man himself, in the North Pole, via my parents and the U.S. Postal Service. And when I raced downstairs each Christmas morning, I could never have been happier with my letters' results.
For one day out of the year, my entire extended family- aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents- would come together from across the state bearing open arms, delicious desserts, and wrapped presents aplenty. My brothers and I would promise to put our differences aside and try our hardest not to argue, fuss, or fight.
My parents would be filled with an energy and pizzazz I seldom saw in them otherwise. It was any youngster's dream come true, and one that always left me smiling, through the caroling, churchgoing, gift giving, turkey eating and tree decorating, with missing teeth and a glad heart.
Over the years, as I grew up and started junior high, the lore of Santa began to wear thin and a Grinch-like holiday greed replaced my young, innocent wish list. I was an adolescent numb to yuletide cheer, a glutton for material sustenance, mainly of the toy variety. I would scream and shout from the first of December to Christmas Eve about absolutely, hands-down having to get my hands on this or that, more and more, without excuses. My holiday wish lists were filled with requests for plastic toy shotguns, new games for my Sega Genesis system and complete Topps baseball card boxed sets. And on Christmas morning when I raced downstairs, I would often unwrap disappointment and unhappiness under the tree.
The special holiday spirit of Christmases past was still present all around me, same as before, but I'd become too blinded by self-indulgence to see it. I was so caught up in the chaotic consumer rush to be bought the perfect Christmas, I'd completely cast off family, my happiness, and the true meaning of the season. too much
I finally realized my yuletide train had come off track the cold day in December my Dad asked if I was looking forward to the upcoming holiday festivities. "Just as long as you get me three special-edition G. I. Joe action figures and a pair of Midas soccer cleats, I'll be happy," I answered. Dad's face twitched. He rubbed his chest and half-shut his eyes. That was when I saw the tears. It was the first time I'd ever seen my father cry. My Midas touch had broken his heart, and turned my stomach. For the remainder of the day, I couldn't stand to be in his sight or in my own skin. I sat in my room and sobbed for hours. I looked at the heaps of toys, games, and collectibles scattered around my bed in disarray: a shotgun cracked in half; Sega games long since played; baseball boxed sets untouched and gathering dust.
I didn't know the first thing about the true meaning of Christmas. My wish list was way off course. I would give anything to be able to say I swore on Santa's elves right then and there to un-Scrooge my holiday stance and forever more dispense peace on earth and goodwill toward men. But I can't, because I didn't.
It took years to realize that if I gave as much as I received, it would make Christmas all the more magnificent. It took even longer to learn that reveling more in the memories of the season, instead of the gotta-have gift of the moment, was the true path to a happy holiday. Today, with Santa long since gone and presents far less important, I look forward to Christmas for the opportunity it provides our extended family to come together, share laughs and swap stories, with smiles all around. On a recent Christmas Eve, I was even able to tell a tale around the dinner table funny enough to send my Dad into hysterics. He laughed until he cried, tears of joy, this time.

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