Nothing under the tree . . . is Christmas

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Nothing under the tree is Christmas. Let me explain.

Like most children, when I was little, I thought Christmas was about presents. They awaited me under the tree and the excitement about Christmas morning was more than I could stand. I stared for hours at the large, hot Christmas lights on our tree and wondered what was in the packages beneath it.

But after Christmas presents were opened and the area underneath the tree was bare, I felt hollow – like I had missed something.

As I got older I no longer had trouble sleeping the night before Christmas. My mother didn’t have to sit by my bed and rub my back, quietly humming Christmas carols in an attempt to help me relax and go to sleep.

But when morning came and we had opened presents, the perennial bareness under the tree still left me feeling like something was missing.

When I moved away and had my own home, wife, and children, I almost dreaded the moment when the last present had been withdrawn from under the tree. I knew what I’d feel. I wanted the tree taken down and decorations stowed away as soon as Christmas was over so that things would get back to normal. The empty tree haunted me.

Even now as an aging man, my children grown, I am glad when decorations are packed away for another year. But I’ve learned the source of that emptiness. There is nothing about Christmas that is under the tree.

The best of what makes us human is displayed at Christmas. We are more polite than normal. We smile at strangers and greet them when at any other time of the year we might have passed by and ignored them. We share. We share our homes, our family activities, and our thoughts through Christmas cards.

One of my very good friends sends me an annual update on her husband and daughter every year, along with pictures from their adventures of the past 12 months. That is my favorite present each year! Even though we haven’t seen one another for several years, being remembered and catching up with her family fills me with happiness.

Our hearts are bigger during the Christmas season. We share our food and our money. We often spend more money than we intend to. Not because we are lavish, but because we want so much to show through presents under the tree what is in our hearts – the depth of our love and appreciation for those who gather around that tree. Packages under the tree are icons for something less tangible – our emotions.

Dr. Seuss had it right in his classic tale, “How The Grinch Stole Christmas.” When the Whos down in Whoville awoke to find every decoration and present missing – even the roast beast – Seuss writes that Christmas “came without ribbons! It came without tags! It came without packages, boxes or bags!”

Standing in a circle – observing one another, they shared the joy of Christmas because there is nothing about Christmas under the tree.

It is what you see across the room – friends, sons and daughters, in-laws, parents, and grandparents – grandchildren and great grandchildren. Those you see throughout the year and those who travel far to sit beside you on a cold Christmas morning. It is also people you remember who can no longer be with you. This is Christmas.

The emptiness under the tree that I dreaded for so many years was really just a reminder that the warmth and closeness of the season were gone. I knew guests would leave and life would return to its day-to-day routine.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. The gratefulness and generosity of the season can continue even after the tree is out of the house and bound for recycling. We can choose it because nothing under the tree is Christmas.

[Dr. Greg Moffatt, a regular columnist for The Citizen, is also a college professor, a licensed counselor and a public speaker. In addition to wearing those hats, he has served as a regular lecturer at the FBI Academy, as a profiler with the Atlanta Cold Case Squad and is also author of “Survivors: What We Can Learn From How They Cope With Horrific Tragedy.” His website is gregmoffatt.com.]