I’m tough to buy for at Christmas.  Since I’ve been married nearly 30 years and have ten kids, I’ve gotten a lot of “stuff” over the years.  Ties, bags of beef jerky, shirts, sporting goods of all kinds, cigars and my favorite really: cards with coupons redeemable for everything from backrubs to doing the dishes to free babysitting (complete with a gift certificate to a local restaurant.)

When my wife Patti or the kids ask me what I want for Christmas my usual response is, “whatever you want to get me.”

It really is much easier for me “to give than to receive.”  In part because I know that I am more than blessed with what I need and/or even want in life.

For the past several years I have spent a little time writing letters to each one of my ten kids and one to my wife on Christmas Eve and placing those letters in their stockings.  We don’t spend a lot of time writing real letters much anymore in our society with a pen and paper.  Most everything we do these days is either emailed or texted it seems.  We punch out our words on a keyboard, just like I am writing these words now. Writing a “real letter” is a gift that takes a little more effort, at least for me, because my fingers are all cramped up after I have completed all 11 of them!

While presents under the tree are nice, I’ve always liked stockings hung “by the chimney with care” and what gets stuffed into them.  My grandma hand-stitched my Christmas stocking 54 years ago, and before she passed away she managed to make stockings for her first three great-grandsons.  We hang up 9 other stockings each year, and our family tradition is to open the small presents inside them first before finding out what is under the tree.  There’s nothing very extravagant in the stockings: Some candy, two-dollar bills, baseball cards, pens and pencil sets, packs of playing cards, granola bars and maybe a pomegranate are some of the traditional Armstrong treats.

With our youngest now 9 years old and our oldest 27 and no-one yet married, the best part of Christmas is that everyone manages to get home.  Except for this year.  One of our adopted sons, Calvin, will not be able to fly back from where is attending medical school in the Caribbean. So while we will see his smiling face via a hook-up on Skype no doubt, it won’t be the same on Christmas with only 9 of our 10 home kids this year.

Still Luke did just recently fly up from Antiqua, Guatemala where he works for the God’s Child Project.  Joash, flew in from Portland, Oregon where he had been attending college.  Aaron, our oldest will be driving in with another son, Jacob, from St. Paul, Minnesota.  Aaron works in St. Paul and Jacob has been going to college there.  Tyler lives in Bismarck and our other 4 children still live at home.

Besides missing out on Calvin, we are also trying another new tradition this year, attending Midnight Mass.  For years, our youngest children were always young enough to participate in the Children’s Mass on Christmas Eve.  This year we’ve decided that we are all old enough to participate in the Midnight Mass! Wonder what Santa Claus will do if he is on the roof when we come home from Midnight Mass!

The best part of Christmas I think for most of us is the chance to be together.  Patti usually makes a great turkey dinner with all the trimmings.  We break out some old and new board games to play together.  And most years, even when there is snow on the ground, we go outside to play a little touch football.  A couple of years ago we even rented a nearby golf dome and played indoors the day after Christmas!

I guess that’s really all I want for Christmas.  A chance to be together again.  To pray together, to open presents together, to eat together, to play together and to laugh together.  There’s really no way to wrap that present up and put it under the tree.  And yet without Christmas, we wouldn’t get a chance to open it up each year.

Merry Christmas from the Armstrong house to yours.

P.S.  If you didn’t get a chance to watch 20/20 last Friday (12/17) and see son Luke on the program, you can watch it here.

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