WILLIAMSTOWN — In 12 days, our plans for a perfect Christmas will come to fruition.
Hm. I better start again. I am not writing a fairy tale.
Many people first envision a perfect Christmas when they are children listening to stories about families gathered around a fireplace, singing Christmas carols, Santa Claus flying across the sky on a red sleigh to deliver toys to children around the world, and snowmen coming to life.
In the real world, weather conditions prevent some families from getting together on Christmas Day, children are sorely disappointed when they do not receive a pony or a motorcycle they requested in their letter to Santa, and Christmas dinner may not be scrumptious. Not everyone is a Rachel Ray.
Sadly, in some homes, there is an empty chair at the Christmas table. Is death not a heartless tyrant? It steals life out of our parents, our spouses, our children, leaving us to grieve for those we see no more.
Some people become stressed and exhausted when attempting to attain the unrealistic goal of a perfect Christmas, including searching for the "perfect gift" for everyone on their list. Yet, they give little or any thought to why we celebrate Christmas.
On the other hand, some Christians purposely do not give Christmas gifts because they object to the commercialization of that holy day.
But how can we separate Christmas from gift-giving? Without God giving the world the gift of His only Son, our Lord, there would be no Christmas.
In my humble opinion, the Christmas season is a time to renew or strengthen our relationship with our faith, a time to rejoice for our Savior has been born, a time to express love and friendship with the giving of gifts.
However, when I was living in Bayside, N.Y., with my parents and my sisters, Gloria and Claire, we agreed to not exchange Christmas gifts that year.
We were not taking a stand against the commercialization of Christmas, nor did we intend to donate to a worthy cause the money we would have spent on gifts. We simply needed to use our money for another purpose.
Just before Thanksgiving, we had moved into a new apartment. And in April, Claire was to wed her fiance, a Marine. Both events swallowed money like a sponge soaks up water.
In the weeks before Christmas, I missed keeping secrets, frequenting stores bedecked in holiday finery, and helping shoppers who asked such questions as, "What size blouse do you wear? You are built like my friend and I am wondering if this blouse would fit her."
I missed hiding gifts and teasing Gloria about her habit of buying items for herself when she was Christmas shopping.
After dinner on Christmas Eve, Mother made a hasty departure.
"I have to pick up a couple of things for tomorrow's dinner," she said as she put on her coat. Next, Claire and then Gloria blurted reasons for leaving our apartment.
As I sat in the living room, staring at the Christmas tree skirt devoid of gifts, I could no longer bear the thought of my family standing empty handed on Christmas morn as if they were poor waifs in a Dickens' tale.
Inventing an excuse to go out, I told my father, "The tree needs more tinsel. I'll get a box at the Five and Dime."
When I ran into my mother and sisters in stores on the avenue, we dropped our veil of pretense.
One by one, we returned home after the stores closed. Because we did not need to drive to church until 11:30 to attend midnight Mass, we had time to wrap our gifts.
There were fewer and less expensive gifts beneath our Christmas tree than in previous years, but that did not matter.
The most precious gifts, whether they be handmade, store bought or intangible, are those given with a loving heart.