Celebrate Presence Rather than Presents This Christmas

presence v presents

The Friday afternoon after Thanksgiving, my wife Mary and I went to the Orpheum Theater in Memphis. I have to admit that I wasn’t exactly thrilled to go. We hold Thursday night tickets for the season, but because of Thanksgiving, the tickets were only redeemable for the Friday matinee show. The show was A Christmas Story: The Musical. It is based on the 1983 movie that is shown over and over (and over and over) on TV during the holiday season.

I was skeptical: how could this musical possibly be any good? We almost didn’t go.

The musical is set in 1940. Ralphie, a 10-year-old boy, desperately wants a Red Ryder Carbine Action BB gun for Christmas, but all the adults in his life insist that if he were to have one he would – and those of you who have seen the movie are welcome to chant it with me – “put his eye out”. Ralphie tries in every way possible to trick his parents into giving him one, despite the risk of blindness. Ten-year-old boys aren’t famous for their ability to prioritize. In the battle of air rifle vs. sight, the air rifle will almost always win.


Image credit: MGM Studios


I have always found the movie cute, but nothing more. So I was totally unprepared to find the musical both totally enjoyable and bordering on profound.

Ralphie’s passion for his BB gun and how he envisions it changing his life is a powerful reminder of our youthful infatuations. But it is his mother’s understanding of how transient the events of our lives can be that I found so profound.

At a moment in the musical when there is chaos all around, she sings a song titled “Just Like That.”

Notice how the world keeps turning
Life goes on
A moment comes
A moment goes
And just like that,
The moment’s gone

Ralphie’s mother’s words remind me how we spend so much of our lives anticipating the future or remembering the past when what makes all the difference is experiencing this very moment, which is so soon gone. It does us good to pause and actively engage in the events of our lives. I’ll admit that this is easier said than done. Many of us are in the habit of whipping out our camera whenever something ambiguously noteworthy happens, and as a result we go through life on one side of the camera’s viewfinder rather than experiencing it as it happens. These are habits that we need to break. Each moment is precious and worth engagement. Becoming actively present is a form of spiritual exercise that not only profoundly impacts our relationships with the ones we love but also helps us become more centered and live more joy-filled lives.

In the end, Ralphie does get his BB gun. And even though he does almost put his eye out, the story is a remembrance of how great that Christmas was. The memory of a special moment can be every bit as good as living it the first time but only if we have actually lived it the first time.

This Christmas, I encourage you to give yourself and your loved ones the gift of presence. It may not be as glamorous as an air rifle, but it’s just what your mother ordered.


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