Guest Column

I must admit, I'm not feeling terribly Christmasy yet this year. I've still got time. I spent a lot of my emotional energy looking forward to a certain other event: my son, Bryce, finally did graduate from Air Force Basic Military Training on Nov. 28. It was a long-awaited, terribly moving experience. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus!

But now I am faced with my first Christmas having only independent, adult children. No grandchildren (yet). It's an in-between time for me. I want to get into the Christmas spirit. I'm watching as many TV specials as I can. Doesn't that count for something?

So, I got to thinking about what made Christmas special for me as a youngster. I fondly remember the Christmas Eves at my grandparents - the fire in the large stone fireplace, the twinkling bubble lights, the many beautifully wrapped packages under the tree, the sense of family. You see, my "grandparents" were really adopted, or rather they adopted us. My mother was raising four children on her own, working as a secretary for a local paper mill. We didn't have much, but we had this family. There were lots of other grandkids, and we felt no different from them. There were just as many wonderful gifts under the tree for us as for the others.

One year, I remember my grandma gave me a most beautiful doll. Now, in the best of times, I was no "doll" person. But this doll was something special. It came in a box with cellophane over the front so I could see her exquisite features without opening (ruining) the gift. She wore a rose colored silk dress, high heels, pearl drop earrings and a matching hat and handbag. She looked like a real lady, just like my grandma. I don't believe I took her out of the box until I was leaving home for college. I thought by then I could be trusted to take care of her properly. But soon I noticed one of her shoes was missing, then her bag, then ... I wish I'd kept her intact. But to this day, I will remember that extraordinary and expensive gift from this person of grace and elegance. I try not to remember her lost battle with Alzheimer's. I will always remember her as my very special grandma.

Then there was the Christmas I asked my mom for only one thing. I was a sixth-grader, a dedicated student with no place to spread my books and paper and pens. I wanted a desk. I'd seen the perfect one. My cousin had it. I knew where you could get it. I made sure my mom knew where to get it. I didn't want socks or underwear or a new pair of pajamas this year. I only wanted this desk. I just knew that's what I would get. My mom would not let me down. But after opening the socks and underwear and new pair of pajamas, there was nothing more. I thought sure she had hid it back in her bedroom and would appear with it momentarily and it would be the highlight of my life (or at least that Christmas). But, no. We cleaned up all the wrapping paper and were moving on to our traditional Christmas breakfast. No desk. I was beyond crestfallen. I ran upstairs to my bedroom sobbing. I was not given to bouts of sobbing normally, especially at Christmas. I was always happy with what I had. But not this time.

After about ten minutes of headache-producing sobs, my sister came upstairs and told me I should come down now. I obliged, in my sulk. There, in the living room, was my desk. The very one I had asked for. I don't think I ever felt so small in my whole life. If I had seen a hole, I would have gladly crawled in it.

Another year, I spoiled my Christmas by peeking. Yes, I had asked for a pair of snow boots and I just couldn't wait to see if mom remembered, or, more likely, which ones she bought. I found them a week before Christmas. I not only spoiled my Christmas morning, but I had to act surprised. It was hard work. Too hard. I never peeked again. By this time I should have begun to get the hint that perhaps I should concentrate more on giving than receiving.

But for the most part, Christmases were a happy, joyful time for me. I loved everything about it, from picking out the tree, to wrapping the presents, to helping my mom address the hundred or so cards she sent out every year. And I loved Christmas stories. I think my very favorite would be the year the Portland Journal, our evening paper, published, "Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus." It changed me forever.

Trying to teach my young children about the meaning of Christmas was sometimes challenging. Remembering how my early Christmases formed my adult views of the holiday, I'll have to admit, the going was a little rocky at times. But I never wanted to discourage my own children from believing in a little mystery, even magic. I reminded them every year that Santa Claus was real, and kneeling at the manger of the Christ child. Giving and receiving are equally important. That image has also served me well as an adult.

A wise man once suggested that we never resist a generous impulse. The message is: give what you have to give, generously and without regret. It doesn't take a credit card or a home equity loan. Giving is the spirit that knows the most precious gift is the one that is priceless.

I'll get into the Christmas mood pretty soon. The kids will arrive; my family has grown to include another wonderful son, my daughter's new husband. And they will give me the only gift that counts: their presence. And I will give them the one that I can give most generously and without regret: a loving, caring, adoring mom.

Yes, everyone, there is a Santa Claus. And he is kneeling at the manger of the Christ Child, year after year. Now he lives not only in you, but in the hearts of our children and our children's children, including the ones we "adopt." Blessed be.

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