I remember going to Grandma and Grandpa Frea's house on Christmas Eve and seeing a million presents scattered from the Christmas tree to the fireplace mantle, alongside the fireplace and lined up all the way along the wall and up the staircase. I remember the excitement as we kids looked over all the boxes looking for something that was ours.
Of course in the end, after a long, long wait, there was only one box sitting alongside me when the gifts were handed out. Then Santa would show up and bring another small gift. I remember opening the package and receiving a great big firetruck with ladders and all. The excitement was real.
Then we'd ride home. It was dark and the stars were abounding. On the way home we listened to Christmas tunes on the radio, and listen as dad talked about how neat it was to see all the stars, "A great night to see Santa Clause," he said. And we kids were rushing to get as close to the window as we could to see the sleigh.
"I see it right there," dad said.
"I don't see it," I said with my face plastered against the cold glass, my brother David half way on my lap with his face pressed on the glass too.
Then we'd rush into the house, through squishy snow, pull our snow pants and boots off, and rush to get our pajama's on. The goal was to fall asleep as fast as we could so we could get up and see how many presents we had.
Of course then I wouldn't be able to sleep. I lay there looking on my dresser at the firetruck. I lay there past midnight. "What was that!" I'd jump up and look out the window. "Was it Santa?"
Then finally, after the longest night ever, waking up and rushing to the living room. Bobby and David were already up and sitting under the Christmas tree. Mom had said last night not to touch anything until she got up, yet Bobby and David already had the presents sorted by person.
There were a ton of presents, and this time instead of the entire Frea family, there was only THIS frea family of a mom and a dad and five boys. So the chances of many of these toys belonging to me was pretty good.
There were big toys. There was a wagon and a tricycle that more than likely belonged to Dan and Tony. And there were big boxes and little boxes. Then we looked at the fireplace mantle and there were five big stocks stuffed full of stuff. And Bobby handed each one of us ours.
I sat on the couch with mine next to me, salivating at the candy cane sticking out of the top. Little Danny already had his open and sticky white saliva dribbling down his chin. Finally mom came out carrying little Tony, and she said, "I guess I wasn't sleeping past 7 a.m. today with all this commotion.
Before I knew it all my presents were open, and I wasn't completely satisfied. I wanted to get Star Wars figures and what I got was a stiff statue of a Star Wars figure. I wanted little Hot Wheels, and I did, but I was upset that my brother David got better ones. He got a big Hot Wheels truck. In fact he got two.
Later mom said she made a mistake, because I was supposed to get one. Yet David would not give me what was mine. He claimed them both for himself.
As I got older the presents became fewer. I would get one box and that was it. David and Bobby would also get one. Dan and Tony would also get one or two little things. Grandma and Grandpa went to Florida. So the Christmas of 1978 seemed to be one of my best Christmas memories ever.
Until 2010. Now I have my own family, and I woke up and saw all the Christmas presents under the tree and was the happiest man in the world because I knew not one of the gifts was for me. They were all from me, but not for me. I learned that the gifts themselves was not the purpose of Christmas, but the happy looks on the people who received them.
The greatest gift was not material possessions, but humility and family. And I also realized for the first time since 1978 why there seemed to be so many presents under the tree that year and not so many later on. I realized that it was not the gift but the age of the kids.
As kids grow older they prefer electronics and games and even clothing, and this results in fewer gifts. Likewise, as kids get older they realize the true meaning of Christmas, and don't expect as much (well, sorta). When kids are little we parents find joy in giving the first Tricycle to the little ones, and the first Wagon.
It was those BIG toys that made this year seem like there were so many gifts. Yet the same amount was spent on the BIG toys for my two little kids 2 and under, as on the really tiny boxes for the bigger kids of seven and 12.
And then my kids put two little boxes in front of me, and I understood why it was that my parents always said not to give them presents. And why it was that they always waited until last to open their gifts.
This was because I didn't need any gifts. In fact, it mattered not that I even opened mine, except I knew it would make my kids happy and my wife happy. They bought me a radio because they knew that would make me happy. And it did.
Yet what really made me happy was that every one in this room was here today and was happy because of me. It was because of my hard work as an RT and my dedication to my wife and kids. It was because of humility and Jesus.
I made a video of my seven year old opening up her package, and when she found out Santa gave her a DSI her joy was unquestionable. She was ecstatic. My 2 year old was excited about a simple sucker she got in her stocking, even though she had several other larger packages yet to open.
My 12 year old was upset that my daughter got a DSI and he didn't, even though he already had one. He was unhappy. Truly, he had yet to realize the purpose of Christmas. To him, Christmas was getting stuff. Yet I said nothing, because I remember how happy I was when I was his age to get stuff and I still grew up to realize the true meaning of Christmas.
This year, at 40, I realized the true meaning of Christmas. It's not materialism: it's family. (This was written on Christmas Day 2010).