Best Christmas: Canceled Christmas gives birth to tradition

There cannot be many horrors greater to a child than to learn that Christmas, that wondrous once-a-year daydream come true, is not going to happen. The toys, the treats, the anticipation -- all gone with the words, "Christmas is canceled."

That was our mother's response to eight bickering and whining kids who had forgotten what Christmas was all about. Lost in all the fighting over the 1977 J.C. Penney toy catalog and the arguing over which kid had been naughty or nice was the true spirit of Christmas -- the spirit of giving, of generosity, of peace on earth.

Mom had a flair for the dramatic, so we weren't entirely sure she meant it. One sister tried to call her bluff by taking the Christmas decorations down. Perhaps it was that that firmed Mom's resolve, but either way, she did the unthinkable and taught us something we'd never ever forget.

"Instead of having Christmas, we will go out in search of 'the Christmas Spirit,'" she said to us, our faces dejected and sagging.

Christmas Day dawned, and sure enough, Santa had not made a stop at our house. But there was little time to dwell on it. We were going out in search of the Christmas Spirit. And amazingly, though there were no gifts and goodies for us that morning, we felt a sense of anticipation at the adventure. This was going to be a very different Christmas.

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