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Years ago while serving on staff with a large, upwardly mobile congregation there was a story I heard about the Christmas tea one of the women's circles held. A member of the circle had taken her aging mother who was experiencing symptoms of dementia. Very quietly the older woman sat on the couch sipping her tea and when the assistant minister sat down to visit she looked around the room with a beatific smile, then in a deep southern accent companionably remarked to the pastor, "I just LOUVE a gaudy Christmas." --I agree with Krista that expectations of stuff can suck the life out of this season of mystery. But I have to be honest too, and confess my delight at times when stumbling on shinny surprises in the cold dark season.

One of my life lessons was that when I was a parent to a young child myself I limited the number of gifts opened in the Christmas morning orgy of tissue and tinsel. Over the 12 days of Christmas I tried to leave a trail of gifts back into the post-Epiphany days & ordinary time. One year when my child was about 2 or 3, one of those gifts was a package of bright colored plastic clothes pins that had caught her eye in the grocery store & may have cost $3. Those pins became a favorite toy/tool over several years. We counted them, designed sculptures with them, incorporated them into dress up costumes, held art projects in place for glue to dry with them, and more. They were a true gift of wonder, because they became mechanisms for helping her to connect with the world and others. They were a lesson for me as a parent to know that sometimes the most important gift as a parent is to be present but get out of the way.