Christmas is confusing - Joel Hall

I never know what to get people for Christmas.

I really like the Christmas season and everything that goes with it -- animated Christmas specials, the Vince Guaraldi Trio playing in the background of every store, and treats that only come during the holidays, like Sierra Mist Cranberry Splash and the Cap'n's Christmas Crunch. However, this time of year always leaves me confused.

Unlike a lot of other children, I didn't really grow up with the tradition of Christmas in my household, not because my family isn't a Christian household, but because of what they believe Christmas represented.

My parents never led me to believe there was a Santa Claus. If there was one, he never visited my neighborhood. Furthermore, they taught me that a lot of Christmas traditions are rooted in pagan, tree-worshiping rituals.

So, I never had a Christmas tree and we never exchanged presents. If my father had a little extra money, he would take me to buy one thing I really wanted like a Starter jacket or a Sega game cartridge, but I usually went to other friends' houses on Christmas morning to play with their toys.

As a result, I am usually at a loss every time Christmas rolls around. I grew up in a household with ten other mouths to feed, so I had to learn how to be very creative. A lot of my toys consisted of paper, sticks, wood, and nails -- if I was lucky.

Kids seem so discontent these days. About a year ago, my family adopted one struggling family and helped them purchase their Christmas presents. Some of the items they requested were wishful to say the least. No 6-year-old girl needs a Gucci anything.

I love birthdays, receiving presents and giving presents when I can afford to, but there is something inside me which resists giving presents at Christmas time. I think it's the idea of obligation, and the idea that most kids know they are going to get something, no matter how much of a jerk they have been during the year.

However, now I have nephews -- three of them, to be exact. Somehow, this year, they were able to melt through my icy exterior and convince me to go shopping for them.

The oldest one, who is about 11, thinks I am invincible. The last time I visited my brother's house, I spent most of my time there defending myself from sneak attacks. My brother is a corrections officer, so I found myself waking up handcuffed a few times.

The nephew in the middle, about four years old, is perhaps the most rambunctious one. Upon entering the front door for the first time in over a year, he proceeded to do a running head butt into my privates. When eating breakfast, he attempted to unscrew the bolts from the chair I was sitting on.

The youngest one is only 15 months old, so he hasn't had a chance to do anything sneaky, yet. He's pretty content most of the time, but I can already tell that he is going to be a giant of a man.

Even though they've been naughty quite a few times, some kind of doting, fatherly feeling inside of me made me throw down the money on a '67 Camero remote control car from The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (complete with drifting tires), an oinking pig car that moves when shaken, and a Garfield Christmas card full of cash.

When I looked at my empty wallet, I almost thought about taking the toys back to the store, but I thought about all of those Christmas mornings I spent at other people's houses, and I wanted something better for them.

Maybe, Christmas is just about commercialism, but I'm starting to learn that, perhaps, it means something more.

Joel Hall covers government and politics for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached via e-mail at jhall@news-daily.com.