David Trinko: Focusing on the presence, not the presents, on Christmas

First Posted: 12/25/2011

Christmas used to be a disappointing day, but not anymore.As a child, you spent weeks looking at those wrapped boxes underneath the tree, daydreaming about what they might be. In a child's mind, there are no limits to what could be inside that box. It could be a state-of-the-art game system just as easily as it could be socks.We tried as we could to figure out what was inside those boxes, picking them up and guessing by weight. We shook the boxes to listen for clues.When Christmas Day finally arrived, we tore through those presents with reckless abandon. With seven children in my family, everyone ripped through the presents as quickly as my mom handed them out from under the tree. You wouldn't believe the unscripted chaos unless you watched one of the videotapes my dad recorded each Christmas morning through my childhood.Most years, I received what I asked for, yet somehow I'd walk away disappointed. That excitement about what could be in the box was so much greater than the excitement of discovering what was in the box. I fear that's how Christmas feels for far too many people, as empty as the boxes tossed to the side upon opening.I learned what Christmas was really about 11 years ago after I moved to Georgia, away from my childhood home here in Ohio. I arrived home Christmas Eve for a visit. My parents, youngest sister and I headed out to midnight Mass. As we awaited the start of the service, my siblings and their families marched in, group by group, to sit near us. I became overwhelmed as I saw all these loved ones I hadn't seen in months. They came together to celebrate the remarkable circumstances so central to our faith. My eyes opened to who they were, instead of focusing on who they used to be. I was moved to tears to see who these people were now, parents sharing their religion and raising their children as best as they could. In my life, I've felt the hand of God smack my face three times, telling me to wake up and see what's important. That night was one of them. Christmas isn't about the gifts. It's about who you spend your time with. It's about healing old wounds and trying to find the best in people.A lot of time has passed since that Christmas Eve, but I hold its lessons close to my heart. I have a wife and children of my own now. We've spent a lot of cold, winter nights snuggled on the couch together, watching Christmas movies lately. It's just as important for me to gather with my immediate family, share my faith and do what I can to explain what matters to my young children.We'll also gather with my sisters and brother at my boyhood home today. Yes, it will still be chaotic when we cram my siblings, their spouses and their children into a home that probably wasn't big enough for us when we were children. I'm not as close with some of these siblings as I ought to be, and Christmas may be one of the three times all year we're all together. It will be crazy watching all of my parents' grandchildren tear through gifts on the same living room floor we used so many years ago.The difference now is I won't focus on what's inside those wrapped packages. I'll focus on what's inside those people, and in my own way I'll let them know how much I appreciate them.There is no disappointment in the holidays when you're focused on their presence, not their presents.You can comment on this column at www.LimaOhio.com.

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