Sunday, December 21, 2008

A good Christmas

Published December 21, 2008
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

I’ve been pondering over the last week what it means to have a “good Christmas.” Someone I know lectured mea week ago that the gifts I’m giving my children this year just aren’t up to snuff. According to this knowledgeable buttinsky, a “good Christmas” is what my kids want and need, and as a parent, it’s what I’m obligated to give them. For those not in the know, in this person’s opinion a “good Christmas” involves spending more money on presents for my kids than I paid for a month’s rent in my last home.


If the quality of the holiday is inextricably tied to the quantity of the presents I give my kids, then I’ve been a poor parent, indeed. Having been the recipient of many a good Christmas in conditions that were dire financially, I know better than to believe that. If there were a ghost of Christmas past to guide me through my life, I’d probably find my best Christmases were those in which money was more than a little tight.

Christmas 1986 was particularly lean. My parents had just divorced, and my mom and her five children had moved back to Oklahoma, the only place in our nomadic existence of military moves that seemed like home. I know we got by, because I’m here to tell of it, but I know we didn’t have much to live on, and we had even less for Christmas. But we had a warm house, a lovely tree, carols we could sing to our neighbors, a turkey someone left on our doorstep, and each other. That was a good Christmas.

I remember another year, things were looking up and my mother was even talking about buying lights for the house because we had a little extra. It was that day we realized that through a tragic but completely understandable mistake, the boxes of Christmas decorations Mom had collected for 20 years had been set next to the thrift store pile in a recent move. Everything was gone. Hearing of our plight, a group of people in charge of a dance for teenagers asked each teen to bring an ornament for a tree as admission. That tree was later delivered to our house. That was a good Christmas.

How well I remember my first Christmas as a single mom, walking through a thrift store in search of Sunday clothes that looked brand new and books my kids might like to read. How well I remember the happy faces as the kids opened those presents and exclaimed their appreciation. There were many other gifts, dropped at our door by generous and often anonymous people, but my kids seemed most excited by the inexpensive gifts they got from me. Maybe they really loved the dresses and the books or maybe they knew all along and only wished to spare my feelings. Either way, that was a good Christmas.

If spending money on expensive gifts is what makes a good Christmas for some people, I sorrow for their Christmases when money is tight. At this time, when more and more people are struggling to pay their bills and keep ahead of gloomy economic forecasts, it’s nice to know a good Christmas is really about love and good will, smiles and songs, friendship and family.

And at its most basic level, a good Christmas is about a young couple, arriving in a strange place with nowhere to stay but a stable full of animals and no gifts to give each other but the baby that was born there.

That was a good Christmas.