What is it that makes Christmas the “Most Wonderful Time of the Year?” In my mind, it’s our search for that special gift that will light up the eyes of someone in our life. It’s the anticipation of that wonderful morning when we awaken with our families with one dream….to make someone smile when they open our gift to them. It’s the peace and joy that we feel when their eyes light up.
My family had a tradition of opening one present on Christmas Eve. We sang “Silent Night” in church and held our candles firmly so that our parents would not worry. And as we walked out of church, that tingle inside became stronger and stronger knowing that soon we would select one present from under the tree before visions of sugar plums danced in our heads. We were allowed to pick the one gift only, and we were very purposeful in selecting the one that held the most promise. It was a skill we developed by carefully analyzing our past failures and successes. We knew exactly which present to choose. We had studied that tree all week long and when we had a moment when no one else was around, we even picked the gift up and gave it a little jiggle. We were certain this was the RIGHT ONE!
The Christmas family traditions of gift giving are modeled on the gift God gave us in His Son….the baby Jesus and we, as parents, pass these traditions down to our children to help them mature from selfish children to selfless adults. They learn that the gift is in the giving not the getting, that the most cherished human value we can develop is to serve others, rather than ourselves. These are the values that build families, football teams and communities!
Recently, I asked Coach Mike Rich of the Catoctin Cougars football team what early “gift under the tree” he received this year. His answer was as simple and plain as the manger on Christmas morning: “every day was a blast.” Count it all joy! “We never had to coach,” said Coach Rich. He went on to explain that they knew they were building, but even so, they never quit for a second. They played like champions. When they beat South Hagerstown, they knew they could run with the “big boys.” Then, when they built a lead over Frederick, the No. 1 team in the county, they realized the hard work was paying off; then Middletown happened, and the Cougars came within one point of an upset.
Coach Rich shared with me a story that reminded me of the moment when you realize you’ve taught your children well and in the Christmas Spirit. One of his players got into a bad car accident on a weeknight, and the accident was bad enough that the young man had to be taken to the hospital. Before the ambulance even came upon the scene to transport his player, the young man called Coach Rich and told him about the accident. Before Coach Rich could get in a word to ask for the details, the young man said: “Coach, I just wanted to let you know that I won’t be in to practice tomorrow.” In a traumatic moment in his young life, his first thought was his responsibility to the team, not his own welfare. That was the perfect gift that made the whole season worthwhile for Coach Rich. The lesson passed down was not in the wins and losses, but in putting others’ needs ahead of your own.
That young Catoctin Cougar understood the true meaning of Christmas…and the reason for the season….and why Jesus came into the World!