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Tom Purcell: Joy, wonder and laughter are children’s gifts to adults

December 25, 2018

I love Christmas. I love it because my mother has worked hard to make the day magical and eventful for her family for more years than she will permit me to share! My mother has six children, 17 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren — and counting. Every Christmas, we, along with a mix of cousins, aunts and uncles, gather in my parents’ home.

After we enjoy a Christmas feast - our dining room table abuts two folding tables borrowed from a local church - we enjoy coffee and desert as we talk about everything and nothing at all and marvel that another year has passed so quickly.

And then it’s time for the best part of our annual gathering: the gift exchange.

We retire to the family room in the basement, the only room big enough to hold everyone. My siblings and I helped my father remodel it into a family room years ago, and my mother’s elaborate Christmas decorations fill it with a warm glow.

My mother plays the very Christmas albums, scratches and all, that we listened to as children 40-plus years ago. These include “Holiday Sing-Along with Mitch Miller,” “Snoopy vs. the Red Baron” and Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas.”

We adults usually do a modest grab-bag swap, but the gift ritual isn’t for us. It’s for the youngest family members in the room.

Our large, extended family has suffered its share of loss over the years. We are filled with grief as our older family members pass on to the next life, leaving a huge hole in our hearts. But our grief is eased by the energetic young souls who are born into our family — souls filled with boundless joy and wonder as they bask in the love of their extended family on Christmas.

There are few things more rewarding than to see the excitement and happiness in a young child’s eyes when she opens a gift you got just for her — there are few words more satisfying than “I love it, Uncle Tom!”

We must learn from our children — we must remember the truths we knew so well when we were their age.

Children are curious. “Why?” is the question they ask over and again. Their minds are wide open, trying to understand the world - not closed and judgmental, certain that their positions are correct and their opponents are fools. Children are filled with love. Much of the evil in our world is caused by hatred. Hatred is a learned behavior that some adults pass down to their children. Love is innate. Adults must remember how to embrace love.

Children know how to laugh. Laughter is a cure for multiple ills, in particular stress. Laughter helps us escape the narrowness of our limited points of view - helps us escape self-importance. Remember how easily laughter came as a child? Adults must remember to laugh.

I hope the eventfulness of my parents’ family room on Christmas will be a memory our youngest family members will cherish for the rest of their lives.

They have no idea how much their presence and excitement fills us adults with boundless joy.

How much better the world would be if we adults became more curious and loving and laughed more as we navigate the complexity of the adult world.

That’s why I love Christmas - and wish you, dear readers, and your families an uplifting holiday season!

Tom Purcell, author of “Misadventures of a 1970’s Childhood,” a humorous memoir available at amazon.com, is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist.

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