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I wrote my first poem, at age five, about Christmas — well, specifically, about Santa Claus. It featured scintillating rhymes, for instance pairing “toys” with “good little girls and good little boys.” My audience was unreceptive: My mother was certain I’d memorized it from my sister’s first grade reading book, from which I’d earlier taught myself, pseudo-phonetically, to read, using the names of the letters of the alphabet. I never wrote the poem down; it is lost to history. The literary community continues to not mourn its loss.

My Christmas lists, age 11, age 12, age 13, all featured the same item, in ALL CAPS and underlined three times: paper. Paper to write on, to paint watercolors on, even to roll into the antique (to me) manual typewriter that was stored, temptingly, in my bedroom closet. I remember the thrill of looking at that blank, white page. What would end up on it? Even I didn’t know.

But of all the wonderful presents I ever received — a silk doll from Chinatown, calligraphy pens, “Free to Be, You and Me,” a Japanese sumi painting kit, more books than one child ought, by rights, to own — the greatest gift I ever received was my faith.

This was handed down to me from my mother, from her mother, whom I knew only through stories. From the first of the Bohemian Wattawas to land in America, who built the first Catholic church in their area by hand. I knew from an early age what I’d been gifted. This was a thing that was not taken lightly in my family. Faith had — has always had — a weight and a value. I knew it was dear.

There are those who take faith lightly — or not at all. They don’t understand its importance, its life-shaping power. They will not pass it on to their children because they don’t see the need to. But let me tell you this: Faith is every bit as foundational as a good education, one for which you would squirrel away hundreds of thousands of dollars. It is durable, lasting, more sheltering than a home, more practical than a computer. It is the gift of great price, lustrous, comforting and lovely. You can live in it. You can eat from it. It will sustain you. How can anyone think it not worth giving?

This Christmas, give the gift of faith. To anyone, to everyone. Let others see you enjoying your faith. Let them see how much you value it. Show it off like a shiny coin. Maybe it will rub off on them. Because this is the gift that everyone needs, the one you really can’t live without — not fully, anyway.

Thank you, Mom, for the best gift I ever got. Merry Christmas, everybody.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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