November 29, 2017 v4 p58
This Sunday marks the first week of Advent, the season leading up to Christmas. I’ve already started to see people begin to decorate, but I hope they remember what this holiday is truly about.
I remember one of my aunts would always send me and Advent calendar when I was growing up. It wasn’t anything special to me other than a way for me to count down the days until Santa came. I remember waiting for it to arrive as soon as Thanksgiving was over so I could start counting down. It also signified that it was time for me to start making my wish list. Those calendars weren’t anything too special. I remember them as a Christmas scene of a house usually, with little flaps that you opened every day to see what was behind them. I never really understood what the meaning of the pictures behind the flaps were because, as a child, they didn’t make a seamless connection to the birth of Christ. While I knew what Christmas was about the birth of Jesus, I was really only focused on how soon I could begin opening my presents.
I’m not exactly sure when those calendars stopped coming, but I’m guessing it was sometime around the age of nine or ten. It was around age five when I discovered that Santa wasn’t real though. That was my dad’s fault indirectly. The local Lions Club in my hometown sponsors the Christmas parade every year. One year in particular I remember sitting on Santa’s lap afterwards and noticing his watch. It was the same watch my dad wore! How cool, my dad and Santa wear the same kind of watch! I mentioned that to my older brother a little later that day, who would have been nine if I were five. He clued me in as to what was up, but was smart enough to tell me not to let Mom and Dad know I had figured it out, and to not let the rest of my classmates in on the secret. He didn’t want me to ruin Christmas for anyone else. That may have been one of the only times my brother had actually looked out for my best interests.
So it was pretty early in my childhood when I discovered that Santa wasn’t real. All that meant to me was that I knew my parents were the ones who were buying me all of these gifts. It was pretty easy to make the connection to them doing it as a way to show their love for me. Unfortunately that made me feel like I should test how much they loved me. As I got older my wish lists began to grown. Not only in length but in cost. Later in my elementary school years I figured I would just make my Christmas wish list an extension of my Birthday wish list. With my birthday coming only weeks before Christmas shopping season it only made sense to not make two lists. I would write a smaller amount of things on my birthday list and post it on the refrigerator about the middle of October. I would then proceed to add to it every time something new would come up, mostly after the toy catalogs would arrive. All of this would pull me further away from the true meaning of the holiday and the true meaning of why my parents would go out and buy me all of this stuff.
This behavior went on throughout my teenage and early adult years. The more I wrote larger items on my list, the less I received what was on there. The only exception to that was the Christmas before I built my first house. My parents knew I would be needing a lot of tools and stuff for that so they used that as an opportunity to help me out with that stuff. I distinctly remember my brother getting upset that day because the physically biggest gift in the room, my toolbox, was for me. What he overlooked was that my mom had taken enough care to make sure she spent close to the same amount of money on both of us, and then wrapped everything so we would have the same amount of packages. Clearly this was not what the holiday was about. His actions really made me see how greedy I was being and I was completely humbled by my parent’s generosity. This was the first time that I really started looking at Christmas in the way it was meant to be celebrated.
In the years following that Christmas I began to ask for different types of gifts, especially from my parents. One of the things I would ask for was tickets to sporting events, either for the University of Michigan or the Detroit professional teams. The request for these tickets was for a pair, so I could take my son with me to these events and experience them with him. Every year my wife loves to make Christmas goodies. Every year she is kind enough to make extra enough for me to share with my coworkers. We aren’t talking just a plate to set in the break room for everyone to share. We package up individual plates for everyone, based on how many people are in their family. Both of my places of employment where I have brought these in, they ended up being something that my coworkers look forward to, and usually begin asking me when they’re coming around the 10th of December. Every year my wife’s extended family gets together on Labor Day and exchanges names for people to buy gifts for. There is then the great exchange of wish lists as I like to call it. It kind of makes me sad to see men beyond retirement age hand a multipage list of “gift ideas” to their younger generation relatives. Especially when it includes items you should be embarrassed to buy publicly on your own. Personally I usually ask for a gift card, or $25 in single beer bottles to add to my collection.
One of the best things I’ve gotten from returning to my faith is a different perspective on holidays like Christmas and Easter. My perspective was so screwed growing up, that I didn’t understand how Easter was the bigger holiday in the eyes of The Church. It was one of the first things that dawned on me. Yes, the birth of Christ is important, but it was his death and resurrection that proved everything and started The Church. Both holidays usually include giving gifts. It is considered a tradition of Christmas that was started by the “Three Wise Men” who came to see the Christ child while he was still in the manger. It is considered a tradition of Easter as a way to honor the gift the Christ gave us when he died on the cross for our sins. Both viable reasons to give gifts, but the old saying is that it is better to give than to receive. This is where things have become skewed. When we make Christmas more about what or how much people are giving us, rather than how much we can give others (not just in physical gifts either), we start to lose the true meaning. Jesus was sent to us to better show us how to better love God and each other. The only commandment he gave us is found in John 13:34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
This message isn’t anything new when speaking about the holidays, but it’s never been more vital to get out. I will be spending time this year reviewing this with my kids so they can pass it on to their’s.