Memories much better than gifts

In terms of pure economics, our biggest national holiday is, of course, Christmas. I read somewhere that Halloween comes in as a strong second, but I’d be surprised if it’s anywhere close to the money we Americans spend for the yuletide.

Perhaps that makes me a little out of the ordinary, because I don’t remember much about the Christmas presents I’ve acquired over the years. Instead, I recall the experiences, and I’ll bet that’s true for a lot of you, too.

When I was growing up as a preacher’s kid, Christmas caroling was one of my favorite holiday activities. We’d pile into cars and drive around town, from one elderly church member’s home to another, and sing Christmas songs in their front yards. They’d come to the door, listen and smile, and sometimes sing along, before we wrapped it up with “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” with us kids always belting out the “figgy pudding” verse like we actually knew what figgy pudding was.

When my youngest brother Mark was born (my parents brought six boys into this world), I started getting into the Christmas spirit in a different way. I was 10 years old when Mark was born, and by the time I was a teenager I was sneaking outside our parsonage to tromp around on the roof like Santa, just to add to his excitement. Then I’d help Santa with scavenger hunts so that, on Christmas morning, Mark would have to search the house for a present or two. Watching him dash all over the house is one of my best Christmas memories.

Years later, my daughters brought me a new kind of holiday joy. Especially in those early years, when we didn’t have much money, I—er, Santa—would go to the store on a $20 budget to buy cheap little stocking stuffers. It may sound silly, but that’s always been my favorite seasonal shopping spree.

As a young father, there was one thing that bothered me about the whole Santa Claus thing. When telling my daughters about the ways of the world, I always tried to tell them the truth, or at least as much truth as they could handle at their age. I never wanted to outright lie to them. The Santa story made me a little uncomfortable, so I asked my dad how he handled it with us boys.

I just told you that I was Santa,” Dad said, adding that we would think he was teasing and wouldn’t believe him. Later when we were older, he said, we’d just figure it out on our own.

So I started doing that, teasingly (but, of course, with an element of truth) telling my older daughter Amy that I was Santa. Sure enough, she’d insist that I couldn’t be Santa.

Then I’d tell her that Pop (my dad) was Santa, and she wouldn’t believe that either.

But when she was in kindergarten, she came home one day insisting on “the truth.” (Amy was always in such a hurry to grow up.)

I’ve been telling you all along, Amy, I’m Santa. I’m your Santa,” I told her.

She thought about it a moment, then her eyes lit up. She understood.

Now don’t go messing it up for your sister,” I said, and her eyes lit up again. From then on, for years, she was a co-conspirator as I repeatedly insisted to her younger sibling Maya that I was Santa, and she would argue that just couldn’t be. Maya insisted, mysteriously, that my nose was too big to be Santa. I still laugh thinking about that.

Now, Amy and Maya are taking on the world as young adults, while my parents have departed this world and my brothers have their own families to celebrate with. Christmas this year will be a modest occasion at my new home in Roswell, but it’ll still be filled with memories of Christmases past. And more than anything else that comes my way, I’ll be thankful for the gift of family fun—and the spirit of giving and generosity that surrounds this beautiful holiday. That’s what puts the “Christ” in my Christmas, and I hope it’ll be there for you too.

Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all. I hope you make some wonderful memories.

Tom McDonald runs the New Mexico Community News Exchange and is editor of the Roswell Daily Record. He may be reached at tmcdonald@gazettemediaservices.com or tmcdonald@rdrnews.com.