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The Ultimate Holiday Gift

I miss being a little girl around the holidays. I think my parents miss it too.

Holiday classics, such as Frosty the Snowman, will spark a memory of watching the cartoon with my dad only once each season (pre Tivo) — and him comforting me every time Frosty melted — or sitting at the kitchen table delicately painting wood ornaments with my mom (was it that we couldn’t afford ready-made ones? I doubt it; my mother must have known that together we could create something more meaningful than any shiny, store-bought ball).

I remember exchanging gifts, but not the objects of desire themselves. More vividly, I recall the warmth of the colored lights on our tree, the smile on my mom’s face as she carefully wrapped my presents (that I endlessly tried to peek at), of my Grammy playing Joy to the Word on her organ in her next-door cozy cottage that seemed to glow brighter than the moonlight. And then there were the tender moments holding my Dad’s big, strong hand among flickering candles on Christmas Eve during our church’s midnight service (that we never missed even though I always tried to get out of it … I mean, what about Santa? Luckily, my Dad knew what our priority should be, and Santa came anyway).

I’ll always treasure Christmas Day as my Grammy took us (her grandchildren) around to deliver baskets of holiday cheer, instilling a subtle message of charity and a focus away from ourselves (and it was fun!). I can even call to mind the overwhelming sense of sadness on New Year’s Day, when I realized it was all over and back to “normal.” But, most of all I remember feeling safe and loved. And special.

One of the joys of becoming a parent is getting to relive the innocent privileges of childhood. But it can never quite compare to living in the moment. Maybe the ultimate Christmas gift is something you unwrap years (and years) later. As adults, we get caught up in the stresses of racing around to find the perfect presents and outfits, attend the right parties, trump last year’s holiday card; all the while worrying about toy recalls, superbugs and troops deployed at the holidays. But, to your child, the world is just this sky-is-the-limit place where holiday cheer is no more complicated than hanging ornaments with mommy and daddy. We were all once that same child.

I can’t relive or even recreate the same memories for my boys. But, I can let them experience the magic and mystery of the season by embracing it in our own, unique modern-yet-traditional version; for us that will mean making a gingerbread house and their great-grandma’s “cardboard” recipe, visiting the trains at NorthPark, overeating at the annual Santa brunch, going to church early, taking a post-Christmas road trip to see relatives in Louisiana, sending a gift to the little girl we sponsor in Ghana, and, of course, we’ll work in a showing or two of Frosty; even though we watch it year round now … and they have taken over the role of comforting me when the cuddly big guy dissolves!).

I will take my parents’ lead and try not to rush around too much or fret about what we give them (and especially how much we spend). I know that it won’t matter.

And, maybe someday one of them will write me a letter (or even publish a story) and tell me, “I miss being a little boy around the holidays, Mom.”