Jenn Morgan Danny Drake

‘Tis the season to be jolly. OK, well not quite yet, but almost. For me, as well as a few other anxious early birds and real-life elves, Christmas really does start in July. Usually by August or September I have already purchased my first pallet of holiday gifts. While you're drinking your mai tai cocktail on the beach, flipping through the pages of the latest James Patterson novel, I am flipping through the retail catalogs that cater to us Christmas junkies.

Though you may think I am crazy - which quite honestly is hard for me to dispute - I have a shopping list as long as Santa's naughty list. I bear the sole responsibility of fulfilling our gift-giving list which at last count was up to 30 recipients. Yes, 30. Three-zero. With that double-digit list of recipients, is it no wonder why I assume the role of Santa's helper starting in the summer? If I left the Christmas shopping up to my husband, everyone - including my 13-month-old daughter - would receive Wawa gift cards or whatever CVS still had on their shelves on Christmas Eve.

Partly due to the economy, and partly because I do not want to have to take out a small loan to pay for holiday shopping, my husband and I have decided we need to cut back tremendously on our gift list. I love Christmas. I love waking up early and standing in a long line at 4 a.m. on Black Friday. I love the smells of Christmas - the cinnamon, the evergreen. I love hearing the ringing bell of the Salvation Army Santa, and I love it even more when people actually put money in his bucket. I love the cookies and the cocoa and all of the tasty treats that fill your home and sabotage your diet. What I do not love is the stress that comes with feeling like you spent too much, or perhaps not enough.

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I miss the care-free joy that the holidays brought when I was a kid. I think that is why I am so excited to see my daughter delight in all the wonders of the holiday this year. Isabella will be about 18 months old and will truly enjoy the sights and sounds of the season. I can't wait to see her face light up with excitement when we drive around to check out the Christmas lights adorning the houses. In fact, this is the year to introduce her to the Shaffor "Griswald Family" Christmas light display. My father spends days meticulously checking each light and decorating the house with enough lights to be mistaken for the Northern Lights. Last year I think Isabella was just blinded by the display, but I think with a pair of sunglasses covering her eyes and instructions to not to look directly at the lights, she will be thrilled with the bright lights in our little city.

I am also eager to see the mad dash to the tree on Christmas morning. I don't think she will understand the story of the big fat guy in the red suit or even care how the gifts got under the tree, but I am sure she will be wide-eyed and squealing with excitement as she inspects the brightly wrapped packages. I won't even care that there aren't that many gifts under the tree for me.

Christmas and all it's commercialism has transformed a time of charity and giving into the need for more, more, more. Growing up we always had big Christmases, the gifts would be flowing from our tree to the front door. As I got older, it got harder for me to accept that there would be less under the tree. It all seemed so depressing. I just wanted to open gifts. Lots of gifts. Having a child has made me rethink my previous thoughts and open up my eyes to what the holidays are really about - family and generosity. Of course I am excited for my baby girl to open up gifts and play with her new toys. I already have a wish list created at Toys 'R' Us ... three months in advance! But gone is the greed that I personally must open up lots of gifts and get, get, get. There are a few things that I would like, but nothing that I truly need.

But there are people who do not have much, and need items they can't afford. There are homeless animals stuck in shelters that would be thrilled with a toy or a treat, or both. Besides shopping for my daughter, these are the gifts that I enjoy buying the most. Though we will be trimming some family and friends from our list, my husband and I will not trim our charitable gifts from the holiday list. This is the time when charity is most needed, and these are the presents that put us in touch with the true reason for the season.

As my daughter gets older, I want to get her involved in the goodwill of the season and let her shop for those people and animals who are less fortunate. I want her to experience for herself that doing good feels good. Hopefully, she will learn the true spirit of Christmas much sooner than I.


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