"What's your favorite part of Christmas, Mom?" my teenage son asked as we drove through town last year looking at the Christmas lights.
"I don't have a favorite part," I said, thinking how I needed to get home to finish wrapping gifts.
I'd spent the day sweating through stores, grabbing underwear, pj's, sweaters, toys, and DVDs, while searching for the eureka of a gift that would make Christmas morning unique.
I didn't find it.
Then I'd wrapped everything and worried that it wasn't enough, that someone would be disappointed on Christmas morning, and I would feel responsible.
In contrast to all that, I thought fondly of my childhood Christmases: cheerful carols, the aroma of roast turkey spreading anticipation throughout the house. I longed for the "good old days" – the days of simple pleasures, such as a silver dollar in the toe of my stocking or an Anne of Green Gables book.
I wished my family could feel the nostalgia of the past. Then I realized suddenly that the memories of this year's Christmas will someday be my children's "good old days."
So I looked carefully through their eyes, trying to see what they might remember when they are parents. And I listened.
"This is my favorite part of Christmas," said Dave. At 17, he was behind the wheel as we cruised the streets enjoying the decorated houses glowing with lights. His sister, Joanna, home from college, sat in front, and his father and I rode in the rear.
"Mine is decorating the tree," said my husband.
"My favorite part is Christmas breakfast," Joanna said. "Pancakes, eggs, and bacon."
"What's yours, Mom?"
I spun through my mental Rolodex of Christmases past. Memories of Christmas Eve church services flipped into place. When the kids were little, I'd watch as they played shepherds or lambs in the pageant. Later, I'd hum along quietly as they sang in the choir. I shared this with my family in the car.
"Remember when we were little and you always used to worry that we would be disappointed on Christmas morning, Mom?" one asked. "You never believed us when we said we didn't care what we got."
I didn't tell them that I still worry about that. But I vowed not to spend another holiday worrying about the unimportant, not to let the cloud of commercialism block the glow of the holiday.
This year, I'm again out in crowded stores seeking gifts that bring smiles, but I've brought along my new perspective. Presents are part of Christmas, but only a small part – and not even a favorite part.
And this Christmas Eve, my family's voices will blend with mine as they stand beside me in church and sing familiar carols. At the end of the service, friends and family, holding candles, will stand and encircle the sanctuary. A flame will be passed from candle to candle, and when all are lighted, we'll sing "Silent Night."
These are the "good old days."