In much the same manner as a rabbit who distributes chocolate eggs has replaced the original meaning of Easter, we've grown old in a culture that has a Jolly Old Elf flying around the world in one night handing out presents that look just like the stuff you can buy for the kids in the store with the giraffe. Funny how art imitates life and then again, when it doesn't.
I'm a fossil who grew up in Fifties where we had air raid warnings that involved hiding under our school desks and facing away from the windows (to avoid the flash of atomic incineration), three (if we had a good antenna) TV stations, all black and white all the time, fathers that got up early and went far away to work and moms who made sure we got to school, came home, put on play clothes before we went outside (every time I see either droopy drawers or tattered-knee jeans, I try to imagine the reaction of my mother or, more especially, my father, and smile as I shake my head), had dinner, did our homework and got ready for bed where we'd get up and do it all again.
Mine was a nuclear family--now most of us live in an unclear society-anything goes and nobody knows. Back in the day, we had Sister Rose, Sister Thomas Anne and Sister Mary Jean and this time of year, our heads were not filled with thoughts of sugar plum fairies (never did get that line or what they were supposed to be. Fruit cake, I've had; sugar plums, not quite), but we were experts on The Nativity Scene (I felt compelled to backspace and capitalize the "T", because I was taught NO other way to write it).
We learned all the hymns, often in what Sister Mary Jean called 'the original Latin' which I realized years later was a private joke she and my father shared and while there's a certain happiness in Jingle Bell Rock, for hard-core jollies, try Adeste Fideles (sung by someone who thought the Wise Men had given The Child the gift of Frankenstein, since I had no idea what frankincense could possibly be).
We've become people who are more familiar with the returns policy at The Mall than the hours during which confessions are heard at the local church, or as I heard it called the other day by someone too young to be facetious, "The God Store." Many of us will spend part of today trying to buy that special present for our special someone and I wish those of us in that situation the best of luck.
I've been told a friend is a present you give to yourself and there's no such things as strangers, only friends we haven't met. If both of those are true, and it is, after all, Christmas, when miracles can and do happen, as you're heading home at whatever time today from that last shopping expedition, rather than follow The Star, seek out the sound of the ringing bell and collection kettle and share some of the change, paper and coins, in your trouser and jacket pockets. You'll never miss it, and someone you'll never meet will be grateful for a moment of peace on the ground.