SideLines: The best Christmas gifts don't come from a store

It's that time of year again when stores are alive with the sound of Christmas – the opening and closing of cash registers.

Sometimes, the best gifts at Christmas don't come wrapped in shiny paper with pretty bows. Sometimes the best presents are the memories the holiday brings us.

Many years ago, a mother woke up a few days before Christmas to find a big surprise waiting for her under the family Christmas tree. Her 3-year-old son, who had gotten up without her knowing it, was innocently sitting among a pile of torn wrapping paper and presents he had just opened.

It's amusing now; it wasn't at the time.

Last year, a co-worker told a charming story of taking her 5-year-old son to see Santa and tell him what he wanted for Christmas. As they were driving home, the little boy confided to his mother that he must have been one of Santa's helpers and not the real one.

"Why's that?" she asked.

"Because he asked me my name," the little boy said. "I told him what it was last year."

Another family I know decided to spend the holidays in Florida one year, over the objections of their 6-year-old daughter. Apparently, she was afraid Santa wouldn't find her since she wasn't going to be home.

He did, though.

One of the presents the little girl got was a pretty pink dress, which she wore proudly Christmas morning. As the family was getting ready to leave the beach front hotel, the little girl wanted to take a final stroll on the beach, something she had never seen before. As she was picking up one last seashell, a big wave suddenly kicked up, knocking the little girl down and soiling her new dress.

When I was very little, I used to worry I wouldn't get anything for Christmas, but for another reason: we didn't have a fireplace. My parents assured me that Santa would just come in the front door like everyone else.

A Christmas Eve not long after that, when I was about 5 or 6, I just couldn't get to sleep. I kept tossing and turning when, to my horror, I heard someone at the front door. My little heart pounding, I froze in bed, squeezing my eyelids as tightly closed as I could for fear the Great Man would peek into my room, see me awake and not leave me anything.

Fortunately, neither Santa nor my parents checked on me.

One of my nicest memories is of the Christmas Eve I went to a matinee production of "A Christmas Carol." It was a bright, sunny afternoon when we entered the theater; when we got out, the sky had turned dark and it was  snowing, the kind of snow you see in those Hallmark Christmas movies made for TV. It was the perfect setting for the perfect play on Christmas Eve.

Christmas Eve was also the day, many, many years ago, that my grandparents got married. Today, with the divorce rate what it is, that might be a daring move;  back then, it was romantic. If nothing else, my grandfather never had an excuse to forget his anniversary.

That was the same grandmother whose nativity scene I wrote about last year, when I couldn't find the Baby Jesus. I am happy to report that I found him up in the attic when I was putting some things away last summer. How he ever got out of his box, I'll never know, but he's right where he belongs this year. I do want to thank all those who offered to replace him.

I also want to extend a wish to everyone that whatever happens next week, I hope all your Christmas memories are good ones that you will cherish for years to come.

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