November 17, 2010 12:00 PM

Christmas was a strange time for me as a kid. I was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness, which means no celebration of any holiday whatsoever. No Christmas, no Halloween, not even Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Jewish kids talk a lot of smack about not having Christmas, but at least people know what they are. People either have no idea what a Jehovah’s Witness is or they assume you’re responsible for the Jehovah’s Witness who knocked on their door last Saturday and woke them up. Neither is a good starting point.

My parents were big into foster care. We would have kids coming in and out of our house all the time. But around Christmastime, the state would pay for presents, so all the kids staying with us would get the coolest toys. And me, my brother and sister got a big bag of squat. It was awful. We would look over at the foster kids playing with their toys on Christmas morning, thinking, “If being abandoned got me toys, I’d pay good money to have Mom and Dad leave me at a gas station tonight.” In the long term, those kids needed that love and joy my parents and the state provided. They were going through things I don’t even have to worry about now-let alone at 7 years old. But in the short term? I wanted toys for Christmas. Period.

One Christmas, me, my brother and sister held back tears as the foster kids opened brand-new Power Rangers, the hottest toy on the market. I think my parents saw us and felt bad, so they went to an outlet store that night and came back with gifts! Because we couldn’t celebrate Christmas, the gifts weren’t wrapped and they weren’t toys, but practical items: flashlights, cleaning supplies, irregular underwear. I’m not lying when I say it was the best Christmas I’ve ever had. It taught me that gifts weren’t important. What was important was our parents drove miles outside of town to get us stuff they couldn’t afford and we didn’t really need because they loved us. The expression of love for those who mean most to us is what Christmas is about. My parents are still devout Jehovah’s Witnesses. So now I get them a gift the day after Christmas. No wrapping. No card. Usually a dinner where we talk and laugh, so I can show them I love them, Christmas or no Christmas.

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