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Each Monday, Tommy Tomlinson delivers thoughtful commentary on an important topic in the news. Through these perspectives, he seeks to find common ground that leads to deeper understanding of complex issues and that helps people relate to what others are feeling, even if they don’t agree.

For The Holidays, Think About The Gift That Really Matters


To tell you about the best Christmas present I ever got, I first have to tell you about the worst Christmas present I ever got. It turns out they happened on the same day.

I don’t remember any of this – I was two or three years old – but my mom and dad told the story so many times that I can close my eyes and see it. I loved trains, so my dad had bought me a model train set for Christmas. He spent half the night putting it together on our living room floor. They woke me up first thing and brought me in to see it. My eyes lit up. It was one of those magical moments a parent always hopes for.

My dad turned on the engine and the train started chugging around the track. I was mesmerized. And then we all discovered one of the features of this train set: The engine had a big, loud whistle.

And the first time that whistle blew, I freaked out.

I cried and screamed and ran out of the room. I wouldn’t even look at the train set anymore. My dad was heartbroken. There was nothing he could do. He turned off the engine and took apart the tracks.

Then he happened to look over in the other room, where I had escaped. And I was sitting on the floor, happily playing with the box that the train came in.

Let’s be honest. Two or three years from now, you probably won’t remember the gifts you got for the holidays this year. You might not even remember what you gave. In many families, Christmas is like an arms race to fill every square inch of space under the tree. It’s hard for our brains to keep track of it all.

Today is Christmas Eve, and many of us are still running around trying to find just the right gifts for the special people in our lives. Some of us, at this point, might be waving the white flag and grabbing a gift card or a pair of socks. I’m here to tell you that you’re doing fine. In a very real sense, it doesn’t matter what you give. It sure doesn’t matter how much you spend. It just matters that you remember.

Long after your loved ones have put away the gifts you gave them, they’ll still be playing with the box of memories. The Three Wise Men brought gold, frankincense and myrrh, but it probably ended up in a drawer somewhere. The gift is not the gift. The gift is the story. The gift is you.

Tommy Tomlinson’s On My Mind column airs every Monday on WFAE and WFAE.org. It represents his opinion, not the opinion of WFAE. You can respond to his column in the comments section below. You can also email Tommy at ttomlinson@wfae.org.