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CHRISTMAS PRESENTS, CHRISTMAS PAST:

Think fast! What did you get for Christmas last year? Except for once-in-a-lifetime items (first bike, car engagement ring), few remember the next day, let alone the next year. Such a waste of time, money and effort. Worse, some fail to recover before the next Christmas rolls around.

Why should this “holy” day exact such a toll? Thanksgiving and Easter are gift free holidays and no one feels slighted.

Where is it written that Christmas requires paying homage to everyone BUT the Christ Child whose birthday it is supposed to represent? Surely the Wise Men’s intent with their gold, frankincense and myrrh was not to initiate a tradition of one-upmanship, spawning a frantic frenzy of gift giving to include everyone and Adam’s housecat? Commercialism has taken the “Christ” out of Christmas.

It took a lesson in logic from our adult offspring to rescue our family from this needless treadmill, but now peace and tranquility replace the financial and ulcer-courting stress of Christmases past.

Our awakening occurred several years ago when our “20 something” son and daughter lamented their limited finances along with the rapid encroachment of Christmas. Friends, they said, were even more financially strapped. Why do we pay countenance to the illusion that affection, loyalty and respect equates to store-bought goods, they wanted to know?

Compounding this idiocy, they said, most presents become white elephants to be hidden, stored, thrown out or passed on to someone else.

“It makes me want to do away with Christmas all together,” said our son.

Moreover, our discussion revealed, few parents know what to buy their spouse, let alone electronically-geared offspring. And most toddlers prefer Mom’s pots, pans and cardboard boxes over expensive “child correct” toys. And surely the world would be better if kids’ creativity were still peaked by building forts, sand castles and tree houses rather than by becoming umbilically-bound Nintendo and Game-Boy addicts.

As for adults, let’s be honest. Except for the thought, how many gifts are REALLY enjoyed? Save your money. Pen those loving and caring thoughts on paper – and they can be treasured by the recipient for life.

The Thanksgiving holiday, with emphasis on family, love and togetherness, is perhaps the most cherished (children excepted whose parents conditioned them otherwise!). As the birthday of Christ, Christiandom’s savior, shouldn’t Christmas be even more so?

Thus enlightened, that Thanksgiving Day we announced our intent to dispense with the Christmas gift ritual. Extended family’s initial shock eventually changed to relief. With five children and more grandchildren in our immediate family, even token gifts represent a sizable investment.

Now, as this next gift-free Christmas inches near, we treasure the sights and sounds of Christmas minus strained resources and frazzled nerves.

We’ll join hands on Christmas Day, perhaps listen to a special Bible segment Great Grandmother once chose for thespian granddaughter to recite, partake of food and mirth to warm our hearts and appetites, and concentrate on the gift of togetherness, not the gift recipient we might have forgotten.

We’re none the worse for lack of gifts. There’s a lot less clean up. And no mountain of bills to greet the New Year.

Gifts are reserved for special occasions and birthdays when attention is lavished on a single honoree, not the multitudes. “…Give onto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.”

If we tend to waver in our new tradition, it helps to seek out someone over 50 who recalls when stockings filled with fruit and nuts were more prized than today’s glitzy fare. When another financially strapped father’s priceless gift to his children is recited to this day: “T’was the night before Christmas…”

Now, when the best minds on Madison Avenue start competing for our hard-earned dollars before Halloween goblins arrive, I’m thankful our offspring challenged mindless rituals that robbed us of virtues, wealth and health.

Our forefathers set aside December 25th to honor the Christ Child, not commercialism. Christmas IS for giving – of self, not hollow trinkets. Now that Christmas presents are Christmas past, “Christ” is back in “Christmas.”

--Gerry Coffey , wife, mother, grandmother, concerned citizen.

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