I remember when Christmas meant presents. As a child, I'd wake up in the middle of the night waiting for the first slash of sunlight to bleed through my blinds. Then I'd be out of bed and down the stairs to observe the change that miraculously took place while I slept.
Limp socks hung on our fireplace the night before were suddenly stockings so stuffed with goodies they sagged with the weight. Dinner plates filled with cookies and carrots were now empty ceramics with a few spatterings of brown crumbs and green stems. What was simply an evergreen tree plopped indoors when I closed my eyes was now the center of a forest of boxes and bags and packages twinkling and crinkling and begging to be unwrapped.
I'd open my presents. My parents would open theirs. And all was right with the world.
Two decades later, Christmas is more about family to me than presents. A magical change still takes place, but it's not over one night for a little boy; it's over an entire year for a grown man. After joining my family with my wife's, I see that the true gift is the chance to spend time with loved ones, the chance to share in the joys and changes of the previous year and the hopes and expectations for the next one.
Christmas day now consists of bouncing from one house to another to another, seeing this side of family and that side, catching up with this relative from out of town and that one who you just don't see as often as you should. The magic is in the warm smile of greeting, the lingering hug after too long apart, the familiar song of "Merry Christmas. It's so great to see you!"
The presents are still there, only, like the stockings and plates and tree, they have been transformed. No longer the latest G.I. Power Ranger action figure with kung fu grip, the thing worth waking up for is the love that radiates off those around you, those who make you who you are.
That is what Christmas day is to me now. And this year will be extra special, because many of the relatives will be seeing my wife's baby bump for the first time. I suspect more hands will rub my wife's belly than Christmas ham will enter it.
And then, in just three short eternal months, a new relative will join the family, and the meaning of the holiday will start all over again, as my son or daughter wakes up at dawn to rush down the stairs and wonder at the stockings, the presents, the joys of being a little kid on Christmas. A little kid who will realize soon enough (but hopefully not too soon) that the true gift is not the packages under the tree, but the people who love him or her enough to put them there.
Merry Christmas to my true gifts.