Kathleen Wrigley
 

The holidays are often stressful for big people. They're commercialized. They come earlier every year. We're rushed and our lists are endless. Gifts are costly, and there are heightened expectations of baking, preparing, decorating, spending time with family and attending gobs of (well-intentioned) events. Then there's the chore of unraveling those tree lights that were heaped in a ball and thrown into the Rubbermaid last year. Pass the TUMS, please.

For as many strands of tinsel lining store shelves, there at least that many outlets taking a stab at answering the perennial question: "What is the true meaning of Christmas?" Pastors, TV and newspaper reporters, teachers, commercials and even -- ahem -- magazine columnists search for sentimental stories in an attempt to emphasize the human spirit.

Perhaps grown-ups are afraid that Christmas is in danger of being disguised by all the hubbub and commercialization.

But -- without having to search hard -- the evidence is right in front of us. Children sense the magic and promise of Christmas. Watch them. They are full of hope and wonderment. There's little doubt in my mind that visions of sugar plums dance in their dreams. The excitement pulsing through their tiny veins is as innocent and pure and hopeful as the birth of Jesus. They get the magic of Christmas. And what a gift it is to see the world through their eyes.

Still, adults get worn-out and cynical. I guess I was among them when I conducted my own (non-scientific) study. I asked handfuls of elementary-aged children to tell me what Christmas means to them. One hundred percent of them mentioned Jesus' birthday. One of the children sent a letter to the North Pole. It read: "Dear Santa, do you know that Jesus is the real reason for Christmas? Not to be mean, but he is."

Blessed be the children. I could end there ... but there's more.

I asked these pediatric wise-men how they would celebrate Christmas with no money or shopping. Without hesitation, they yelled over each other. They'd visit loved ones. They'd bake cookies and share them. They'd give their mom a massage. They'd sing carols, go to church, pray together, give hugs, drink hot cocoa, be kind, help others and give their old winter clothes to kids who needed them. I was encouraged and listened in my own wonderment.

Children have unbelievably open hearts and welcome the spiritual meaning of Christmas. They also bask in the celebration and traditions -- and the commercialization -- leading up to the big day.

I think we can all agree that the glitter adds to the splendor of the season. Our children see through it and they're able to embrace it all. Watch them and you'll see. With all the hoopla comes hope.

This photo of our son, Patrick, tells the story. He was five. He stood, watching Santa distribute a gift for each grandchild in the Wrigley family. Patrick's gift was at the bottom of Santa's bag. So ... he waited. Patiently. It seemed like an eternity. He didn't whine or cry. He just waited, and then crossed his tiny fingers, behind his back. Why? He was hoping. Wishing. And believing.

Yup, the holidays are commercialized. And yes, they're thrust on us earlier and earlier every year. Control the chaos. Watch the children. See the magic. Remember the reason and the hope that lies within -- all while we're stressing and preparing because ... Jesus and Santa are coming to town.

And this is one birthday party that doesn't need to be overhauled.