By: E. Jane Rutter

The “holiday” season is in full swing, retailers pounding us with great deals on toys, TVs and trucks that will make us happy if only we own them or buy them for loved ones. The emotional pitches are in high gear and it’s easy to get caught up in their warm and fuzzy grip.

I tell myself to stop, shut out the noise, and focus on the “Holy Day” of Christmas season. Jesus is our gift to receive and give away.

One specific Christmas several years ago taught me this lesson. We loaded the minivan with the three kids and Christmas presents and went to visit my parents in Florida. Mom was taking care of Dad who was suffering from Parkinson’s Disease, so I was all about making Christmas special. Christmas morning, when my Dad saw the tons of colorfully wrapped presents under the tree, his only comment was “this is obscene.” Lesson learned: Christmas joy is not about the number of presents given.

If I were to write a recipe for a meaningful Christmas, what ingredients would it include, my friend, Alicia asked? Six come to mind:

Worship. Attend church and make regular attendance and participation a priority for the coming year. Our lives become rightly centered on our knees before Christ’s altar.

Forgiveness and reconciliation. Forgive those who have offended us and ask for forgiveness from those we have wronged. Ask Christ to forgive us our sins and help us to lead pure lives. Only through reconciliation will we live in peace.

Hospitality. Open our hearts and homes to others, especially those most in need.

Presence. Turn off our phones, I-pads and televisions and be present to one another. Share our worries, plans and hopes with each other. Listen, laugh, cry, play and hug.

Generosity. Give freely of our time, talent and treasure with no expectation of recognition or return, knowing that all we have is gift from God.

Gratitude. Appreciate the material, physical and spiritual blessings we have. “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thess 5:16-18)

Of course, sweets are always at the heart of our celebrations! While I have no idea how my Mom’s recipe below came to be our family’s “Christmas cookies,” try them and let me know what you think.

2 c carrots
¾ c sugar
1 c shortening
1 egg
2 c flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt

2 c powdered sugar
1 orange rind, grated
juice of one orange

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cook carrots until tender. Mash. Cream together sugar and shortening. Add carrots and egg. Beat well. Add flour, baking powder and salt. Drop teaspoonful onto greased cookie sheet. Bake for 12 minutes. To make frosting, slowly add orange rind into powdered sugar until it reaches desired consistency (not too runny).

And so I pray: Dear Lord, may this Christmas be filled with the joy of love shared and the songs of angels rising in praise to the Star of heaven.