I read Avalyn's writeup above, and it made me very sad, that somehow he had missed or mistaken the entire point of Christmas. True, the holiday has been overly commercialized. The gift giving tradition almost guarantees as much with retailers scrambling for our dollar, euro or other applicable currency. I could even speak of the birth of Jesus, but I don't think that would be appreciated. Instead, I'll speak about what Christmas means to the secular me.

When you're a child, Christmas is about presents, overeating, fabulous desserts, and a really long break from school. My brother and I used to wake up at five thirty, because we couldn't sleep worrying about what was underneath the tree. And we'd dive bomb the tree.

Mom and Dad would trundle out of bed in their bedrobes, still bleary eyed from playing Santa the night before. They'd smile, and get us something to eat, and themselves coffee, as we went into a long marathon of opening and playing. Then we'd go over to multiple Grandparents for two Christmas dinners and multiple presenting. For a kid, life just didn't get any better than that. For parents it was a lot of work.

Then my parents split up and it became Christmas Eve with Dad, Christmas Day with Mom. They remarried, and I remember my late step-father Gary in his robe and pajamas as we tore into our presents. Mom making the turkey as Grandma grew too old. Me throwing a fit when Mom wanted to substitute artificial mashed potatoes, which led to me peeling and mashing, a tradition that continues to this day.

Today it's still Christmas Eve with Dad, and Christmas Day with Mom. The gift giving doesn't matter so much. I'm middle class now, I can afford what I want. Now it's my turn to give.

We've been doing this together for over forty years now. Mike lives in the Beltway, me Columbus and Bryan in New York. We have to travel to be together. This is the one day we set aside above all others to be with the people we love, to celebrate each other's company, and to just savor the moment. All across the country, and much of the world, people are doing the same, gathering with the people they care about and celebrating.

There won't be that many more. My parents are their sixties. Age has begun to bite. Mom 's steel-trap mind is slower. My father's arthritic hip pains him, even if it doesn't stop him from playing tennis. I can hear him breathe now. For my entire life they've showed their love for me, and their family in the way that really matters, by giving of themselves. I won't have them forever, so each and every Christmas becomes something special, a time to cherish immortal moments in very mortal lives.

I could argue that Christmas is really about celebrating the birth of Jesus, and for many people it still is. But I don't think that's what's needed here. Christmas is really about love, and showing it for the people that matter to you. It's about a child's smile when he opens that Lionel Train set, or about dancing with your sweetheart about the Christmas Tree. Because it's a holiday, it gives you a reason, an opportunity, even an excuse, to gather the people you care about and celebrate each other. The preparations, shopping, the giving of the tree, are like foreplay and flirting, something to build up to the main event. If you don't want a tree, or a turkey, fine. If you prefer Nine Inch Nails to Christmas Carols, crank the tunes. (Hint: The jazz guys know how to do carols that kick serious butt) But take this opportunity to celebrate being alive, and the people you care most about.

That's why Christmas is so big.