Best Christmas gift ever




Recently, a question came up in polite conversation, posing a query as to the best Christmas gifts I ever received. I have to admit that I was stymied and couldn’t come up with an answer in the moment.

It did cause me to think about the question, however; and now, I have an answer. But first, some background.

(Spoiler alert. If you are reading this out loud to your young children, first and foremost you should really get better material than my column. However, I am about to reveal something that might cause great disruption in your home.)

When I was around eight years old, I learned that Santa was really Mom and Dad.

I was sneaking around in their bedroom closet looking for Christmas gifts that were hidden in anticipation of Christmas morning. I opened the closet door and pushed some clothes aside and there in the corner was a stack of stuff that was obviously was not meant for my parents. It included several packages of GI Joe clothes (clothes for the action figure, not me), which happened to be what I had been asking Santa to bring to me. I was so excited that I wanted to open them right then and there, but the rational 8-year-old me thought better of that, covered up the packages just as they had been, closed the closet door and left the bedroom.

We would traditionally open gifts from family on Christmas Eve and those from Santa on Christmas morning. On the 24th, we gathered around in great anticipation of the joy ahead. Being the youngest, I was first to open gifts – and I could hardly wait. As gift-wrapped boxes were presented, I looked for the GI Joe things, but, alas, they were not there. I tried to show my excitement for the other gifts, but everything was colored by the fact that the expected packages were just not going to show up.

Following the gift opening was dinner; then singing; then more eating; then playing with the new toys. Even though the hoped-for soldier uniforms were not in my hands, I was having a great time.

Then it was time for Midnight Mass.

For an eight-year-old, being allowed to stay up late and go to Mass at midnight was a real treat. We drove to our parish, St. John’s in South Milwaukee, which was a big deal in itself because we lived just a few blocks from the church. We walked to Mass and school all the time, so driving was pretty special. It was very cold and snowy that night, but he church was lit up and shone brightly in the dark, beckoning all of us to come inside where it was warm and filled with glorious music and smiling, happy people. It was spectacular! The music, the lights, the crèche, the Christmas tree in the sanctuary, all to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Even as an eight-year-old, I knew that being at Mass with my family and worshipping God was far more important than any box filled with toys.

After Mass, we returned home where I got rushed off to bed. They told me I had to be asleep or Santa would never come. I lay in bed, wide-eyed and awake, but sleep came soon and Santa could finally show up and do his work.

On Christmas morning, I jumped out of bed and headed to the living room where our tree stood. Underneath the boughs were gifts wrapped in different paper than what had been used the night before. I grabbed a package and read the tag: “To Matt from Santa.” Tearing off the wrapping paper revealed the same cardboard and plastic which held the action figure-sized white camo uniform I had seen a few days earlier on my parent’s closet floor. Life as I knew it would never be the same.

But that’s not the answer to the best gift question.

The answer, my friends, was not the GI Joe white camo uniform.  It was the other gift my parents gave me – they taught me, by their words and actions, not just at that long-ago Christmas, but every day of my life, that to know, love and serve God is the very reason for our existence.

What could be better than that?

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