‘Real’ Christmas starts at home

?Christmas, more than any other day in the American year, is when we?re all handed the same stage props, the same tree, the presents, the meal, the relatives, and all the same expectations. And then we all try to create more or less the same kind of day.? ?IRA GLASS

I grew up in a Catholic home, in a family that went to midnight mass every Christmas Eve, back when it was still held at midnight.

Year after year, I was one in a long line of kids wearing white robes and silver pipe cleaner halos grasping tiny candles, marching up the aisles of the church toward the alter, where we would form rows in front of the packed church and sing ?Away in a Manger.?

To and from mass, I sat in the backseat with my head pressed against the window, searching the black sky in furious silence for that small red glow. I always hoped to see it, but was also a little nervous?afraid we wouldn’t get home in time to fall asleep before Rudolph?s hooves touched down. (We made it every year.)

One specially selected gift was opened on Christmas Eve and the rest would wait until Christmas morning, after Santa Claus set them out in their unwrapped glory under our Christmas tree.

I still get that feeling when Christmas comes around. From the first ornament stocked onto store shelves before Halloween to the last left-over peanut butter ball at New Year?s, I feel like a kid in the backseat, searching for the red light in the sky.

I wasn’t raised in a home with resources for a lot of gifts. But we always had them. And I don?t remember every present I got, just a few that linger years later. But I remember the anticipation. Gifts have always been a part of my Christmases. Even more so as I learned how to give them.

Losing the heart of Christmas seems to be a collective fear. I?m just not convinced that every other beautiful part of the holiday needs to be dismissed on a quest to preserve the real meaning.

If we?re going to wait around for the world to change it?s view of Christ?mas, it?ll be a long haul. It starts inside each home, like all solid things should, in spite of distractions.

I love presents. I love food. I love Christmas cards. I love singing ?Away in a Manger.? I love wide eyes on Christ?mas morning. I love ?The Charlie Brown Christmas? special and ?It?s a Wonderful Life.? I love Santa Claus and believing in the magic of believing. If you?ve seen the ?Polar Express,? you know what I mean when I say I still hear the bell. I love Christmas.

No doubt that Christmas is glitzy. We do put too much emphasis on expensive electronics and toys. And Lord knows we do overindulge. But what else happens during this materialistic nightmare? We spend more time with family. We read the Christmas story. We hang lights and spend evenings driving around to find the best displays. We watch our kids transform into Mary, shepherds and donkeys in church programs. We sing Christmas carols. We send cards and buy gifts for angel trees.

I can?t help but love Christmas for what it is. For ALL of what it is. Baking, singing, eating, praying, giving, playing, and yes?gifting.

We center it on the reason for the season, but still appreciate the other symbols that come with the celebration. The ones sung by candlelight or show up in a child waiting for Santa?s visit. I also occasionally enjoy the ones topped with whipped cream or a fat red bow.

I can?t be convinced there?s not enough room for all of it under the tree. Because I love Christmas.

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