I came upon a quote that I find interesting and challenging, “Make your presence more important than the presents.”

When I think about this it really makes sense. We get together on Christmas Eve and the presence of our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren means more to Boyd and me than any present we can receive. What a joy to have as many family members attend as are able to. We eat together, sing together, listen to one of the grandchildren read the story of the birth of the Savior from the Bible, and even hear some fun Christmas stories. Then we open presents, one at a time so all get to open and display what they have received.

Probably the most fun I have is when we have a toddler present who disregards any gifts and just wants to play with a box. Yes, that toddler’s presence in, under, on top of the box is more fun to watch than the actual unwrapping of the box. Although I appreciate the presents we receive and I’m not ashamed to say that I enjoy receiving gifts, I enjoy and appreciate more the presence of our loved ones being together and enjoying each other.

There are other presences that I enjoy at Christmas time. As a child growing up, I always enjoyed the presence of my grandmother, Geneva Ricks. She was with us at all of our “family meetings” and her presence was appreciated. I admired her, loved her, and always wanted to be just like her. She had a quiet dignity about her at all times, and especially during the Christmas season when we, as all children do, became so hyperactive.

The presence of my parents, Derrald and Ann Ricks, and the example they set for me throughout my childhood, and actually all of their lives. Even now, I sometimes feel their presence in my life, even though they have both passed away. Also, Boyd’s parents, Phil and Bertha Schwieder, were a welcome and loving presence and a stabilizing factor in our lives even before we got married. Both sets of parents were hard workers and set an example of compassionate service among their neighbors and friends. They had the true spirit of giving.

The presence of our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren has always been a source of strength to me, although sometimes it’s also a source of anxiety. They show their love in so many different ways! I love to be in their presence at this time of the year and watch the young ones as they look through the ads in the paper and on TV. I miss the Christmas Wish Books, the catalogs that arrived in the mail every fall from Sears and Penny’s. The children, myself included when I was younger, would pour through the pages finding presents we wanted Santa to bring us.

At Christmas time we also seem to be more aware of neighbors and friends we have known and only keep in touch with at this season of the year. The presence of them in the form of Christmas cards and letters help keep us in touch and remembering when we were together more often.

And the one presence I especially appreciate all through the year, but it seems we watch for it more at this time, is the presence of our Savior, Jesus Christ. I love it when the story of his birth is read during our annual Christmas Eve meeting with our family. I am amazed at the children’s attention to the story at a time when what they really want is to open presents. But His holy presence is revealed in this Bible story, and it is appreciated by me!

So as we are shopping, making our lists, trying to remember the homeless and less fortunate, let’s all strive to make each individual presence around our Christmas tree an important presence. Let’s pay attention to those who might need an extra hug, a whispered “I love you” or “I’m so proud of you.” Let’s not be so tied up in what we unwrap as what we can change and promote. But let’s also enjoy the presents and the presence of loved ones and make sure we express our gratitude for being thought of at this time.

Jean Schwieder is a writer who has spent her life involved in eastern Idaho agriculture. Her books, including past columns, are available by calling 208-522-8098 or by email at straddlinthefence@gmail.com.

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