A Profound Christmas Lesson from Snoopy

There are many lessons to be learned from the holiday season. You learn them as you grow up. Like most children, for me, Christmas time was about getting presents. Cool presents, presents that I hinted to my parents about with glaring spot lights and fireworks displays. And when I didn’t get what I wanted at Christmas, I let my disappointment be known. Most of the time however, I got what I wanted. But in all of my 40 Christmases there is one gift that taught me a lesson that took me over 20 years to learn.

Like most holiday seasons, this one had all the bells and whistles. We dressed for winter, commercials for how and with what to complete your Christmas shopping lists were every where, and snow was on the ground. I probably watched Frosty The Snow Man, Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer, It’s A Charlie Brown Christmas and Its A Wonderful Life three or four times by then and Christmas was just a couple weeks away. I was eight years old and Atari had just come out with its 2600 console to include the joystick and single button controllers. That’s what I really wanted. That’s what I got and I still have it!

My family had been living in Germany for several months at the time. I grew up an Air Force brat. Brat being the keyword. My Dad had been stationed in Germany and my Mom quickly found a job with Civil Service working on the military base. My brother attended the local high school, and of course I was only in grade school at the time. And with most American families there, we were part of many social and sports groups. These groups had special events and get togethers throughout the year, especially during the holiday season.

It was at such an event on Christmas Eve that I experienced something that would surface many years later as a profound lesson that I will never forget. All the kids were invited to attend the Christmas Eve gathering that was held down at the local recreation center. Of course, I was looking forward to this event all week, because it was suggested that each kid get a present to open after the food and games. Not to be left out I made my Mom aware that it was mandatory that I get an early Christmas present at this event. We had a great time. I played with school friends. My Mom mingled with other parents. I still remember the cupcakes. And the games were fun. We won prizes! I was having the time of my life, and the best part was yet to come. Getting to open an early present.

So there we were, 30 kids or more. We sat in those grey metal fold out chairs positioned in a circle around the large room. Our parents standing next to us ready to give us our early Christmas gift. I watched as the other kids opened their gifts. The other kids got some really cool stuff. One kid got a football, another got a helicopter slingshot thing that really wanted. I saw Lego sets, and Star Wars figures. Everyone got some awesome toys. I couldn’t wait to see what I got. So imaging my surprise, being a typical eight year old boy, rough and tumble, holes in the knees of pants and all, when I ripped open the wrapping paper from my gift and a stuffed Snoopy emerged! I was stunned. Shocked even. Rage and embarrassment betrayed me in the form of tears streaming down my face. My Mom could do nothing to console me. And the more she tried the more attention we attracted. It was like a compounding nightmare. The more people looked at us the more I got upset. How could she do that to me? I didn’t play with stuffed animals anymore! I was too old and too cool for that. Stuffed animals were for girls! The rest of evening is blurry, maybe it was from the atrocity that happened to me. The sheer embarrassment of it all. How was I going to show my face in school? Could there be anything more horrible? Surely I would be scarred for the rest of my life!

Skip ahead 25 years. It’s that time again, the Holiday Seasons. I’m older, wiser and smarter! (Yeah right.) It’s time to start pulling out those holiday decorations. The tree, the ornaments the lighting, the little nativity figurines and some other Christmas odds and ends. As we are pulling out all the Christmas decorations, can you guess what my eight year old son found at the bottom of one of the Christmas boxes? That’s right, you guessed it. Snoopy! (Que the Psycho music.) The same stuffed Snoopy my Mom gave me all those years ago. Memories of that tragic event came flooding back. Only now I remember the event differently.

I remember how embarrassed I felt, and I felt embarrassed for feeling embarrassed. I remember the look of concern, confusion and frustration on my Mom’s face. I remember how only when I threw my tantrum did I attract attention to myself. And I feel a bit shameful for the way I reacted. I know I was only eight years old at the time but thinking back, my Mom went out of her way to take me to that event. She spent money on a gift for me and took time off work to get me there. I realized, truly, how much I love my Mom. More memories flowed in to my mind. Memories with my Dad, my brother and close friends throughout the years. I found myself wishing I had more of them. I felt lacking in many ways, not for physical things, but fore more time. Time to spend with my loved ones.

Now, Christmas means so much more to me then getting gifts, in fact I could do without getting a gift. I look forward to the season because I have the gift of family and friends to share time with.

Now that same stuffed Snoopy that I never wanted, is one of my most prized and sentimental possessions. It sits on my dresser where I can see it every day. It sits out as a reminder. A reminder that it’s not about the gift you get, but the time spent with the person giving gift. That is the real gift. A very precious gift. Not just during the holiday season, but all year round. We only get so many Christmases to spend with our loved ones, you really don’t know how many. So treat each moment you get with your parents, your kids or your true friends like a precious gift, because that’s what it is.

When I think about it, a gift my Mom gave me so many years ago turned out to be the best gift I ever received. A gift that turned out to be a profound lesson that I teach my kids and express to those around me. The true meaning of holidays wrapped in a stuffed Snoopy wearing a shirt that says Merry Christmas.

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