Christmas not just about the ‘stuff’

Published 4:32 pm Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Nothing reminds you of the magic of Christmas like hearing it from a child.

As we combed through more than 200 of letters written to Santa by area children for our annual holiday special section, I was reminded of some memories I hadn’t thought of in quite some time.

For instance, for the better part of my childhood, my sister and I would camp out on our little brother’s floor on Christmas Eve, watch “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and guess what presents Santa would bring us. We’d giggle well into the night, too anxious to sleep, and rewind the cartoon classic and watch it over and over until we couldn’t keep our eyes open anymore.

For several years when we were in grade school, we tried to catch Santa in the act. We would write him letters and quiz him on trivia we were sure only St. Nick would know the answers to (even though we’d found the information in a Rankin Bass movie).

And then, every year, we’d put a pot of coffee on and then race into our parents’ bedroom to wake them up so they could see what Santa brought us.

We had plenty of traditions leading up to the holiday, too. For instance, every year (to this day) we put the Christmas tree up the day after Thanksgiving, and then deck the entire house out in holiday décor.

Every year we make two types of cookies: Christmas cutouts and kieflies. One year in particular sticks out in my mind, even though I was probably only 5 or 6 at the time. My mom and sister and I had finished making the dough for the Christmas cutouts and put it in the refrigerator to set before we got out the cookie cutters.

When we went back into the kitchen to cut out the cookies, we discovered my then 3- or 4-year-old brother had woken up from his nap, and was happily sitting under the table with a whole bowl of cookie dough — or at least what was left.

It’s funny now, looking back on those holidays and realizing I don’t really remember many of the presents I received. I remember the traditions, the sound of my mom singing Dolly Parton Christmas classics, the smell of kieflies cooling, the sight of the lights twinkling on the tree, the warm feeling of our family around the dining room table saying grace.

I’ll never be the one to tell you that Christmas is not about the gift exchange. Giving gifts was always an important part of my childhood. My parents always went all out, and while I suppose that could spoil some children, really it just made my sibling and myself excited to do the same for others.

I find a lot of joy in picking out presents for loved ones and watching their faces as they unwrap them. Nothing is more exciting than watching my cousins’ little ones completely elated about every doll and toy car.

What I’ve learned in my adult life is that it’s not so much about the “stuff” you give and receive, it’s about the sentiment behind it.

My parents taught us to get excited about giving, but not just giving gifts. We learned to give time to each other and to those in need, to give thanks for all the little blessings in life, to give love to those who need it most.

I hope your holiday is filled with just as much joy and that you make memories that will last a lifetime. Have a very merry Christmas.


Ambrosia Neldon is the managing editor at Leader Publications. She can be reached by phone at (269) 687-7713, or by email at