These are cynical times we live in, to be sure.
From daily political skirmishes and workplace threats to the specter of unhinged world leaders rattling their nuclear sabers, it seems as good a time as any to sit down, draw a deep breath and relax.
Thankfully, Christmas is just a few days away.
But this most precious of Christian observances has undergone so many major renovations over the years the cynic can point to the crass commercialization of the holiday and mutter “why bother.’’
Yes, our society is bombarded with “buy me’’ pleas earlier and earlier each year. A millisecond after Halloween is over, store employees hustle to build Christmas displays while Thanksgiving is wedged into the remaining space.
But underneath the retail reality of the holiday, there remains the undeniable sparkle of Christmas. I’ve seen it in the eyes of my children and now my grandchildren, which is to say the true meaning of Christmas has been there all along, but was only revealed – like a lot of things in life – after many years as a parent and now a grandparent.
It’s was an epiphany, a slap-to-the-forehead moment when I realized I was probably happier than my kids on Christmas morning when they were overjoyed by their presents.
My mother and father, surely, experienced this with my siblings many years ago.
The time was certainly different, but it wasn’t innocent by any means. America and the Soviet Union stood astride the world and the threat of nuclear annihilation was palatable. Barking politicians were much the same as today, they just didn’t have a 24-hour news cycle in which to deliver their message.
Under those circumstances a lost bicycle might seem insignificant, but not to a 6-year-old who promised his mom he’d be careful if she’d just let him ride it to school. Please mom, pretty please?
It was wonderful – deep copper with a white seat – and Santa (or was it mom and dad? I wasn’t quite sure) left it under the tree.
After finally getting permission to ride it to school, that’s exactly where I left it one day -- only to remember it the next day when I went to climb aboard when it was time to leave for school.
Heartbreak doesn’t really describe my feelings. I had promised to be careful and I wasn’t. That copper beauty was being ridden by someone who didn’t deserve it.
My dad had a memorable “I told you so’’ look. He unleashed it when he found out. He also said there would no replacement bicycle.
Of course, life as I knew it was over. What was the point? A first grader without a bike might as well stay inside the rest of his life.
The weeks turned into months and the pain of the lost bike faded a bit. School started once again and I was now a mature, world-weary second grader.
My parents never mentioned the bike again.
Yet, the following Christmas….yep, you guessed it. A big, red shiny bicycle greeted me while still rubbing the sleep from my eyes on Christmas morning.
I didn’t lose this one. I rode it until it literally fell apart.
This Christmas memory isn’t unique, but it’s still miraculous. Just as I’ve been warmed by the sight of my kids’ excitement on Christmas, I’m sure my mom and dad were happier than I was that memorable day.
It’s an age old story that remains viable and significant today. Giving gifts – just as the Three Wise Men did for the Christ child eons ago – is the foundation for Christmas.
Gifts don’t have to carry monetary value. They can be as simple as smiling at a stranger, hugging your kids and grandkids a lot, telling special people you love them. These decent things we can do every day.
Even though Christmas comes but once a year, its spirit provides fuel for the kindness flame each and every day.