I was watching a movie a few weeks before Thanksgiving, and even then, the PRE-Black Friday sales had already begun!

The day after Thanksgiving used to be one of rest, enjoying leftovers, watching football games, and spending time with families and friends.

Not so anymore.

Now, Black Friday sales begin almost as soon as Halloween is over!

Lord help us, it’s now a mad rush to see who can find the best prices at the biggest-box stores in the biggest cities.

Honestly, I can’t stand fighting crowds in stores or on the road to get there, and I detest, hate, loathe and despise “online” shopping, (and did I mention, I really don’t care for it??? ... lol) which is why I will continue to do my shopping LOCALLY, with those businesses that support with their advertising dollars our newspaper business; where the sales staff are friendly, know my name, and where people don’t push and fight and act like selfish idiots to get in front of someone to grab the last “big sale item” off the shelf.

Christmas has become tooooooo dang commercialized.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand that without the added sales boost from holiday shoppers, many businesses might not survive the coming year.

There is nothing wrong with buying and giving gifts, but in my book, we Americans have taken gift-giving to an obscene extreme.

Trust me, if Junior doesn’t get that supercharged, overpriced electronic gizmo or $100 pair of brand-name superstar shoes, he will survive. He may not think so, but he will.

If we just keep gift-giving in perspective and within the limits of what we can afford, our lives will be so much simpler and the holidays so much more enjoyable.

And let me say here and now, I spent most of my growing-up years with elderly grandparents who had very, very little when it came to spare dollars for holiday gifting. But what they gave me in return were priceless memories of growing up in a small, un-insulated, wood frame home (without a water heater), heated by a single pot-bellied wood-burner in the living room, that was always filled with good food, warmth, and lots and lots of love.

When our kids were small, my wife and I were struggling to pay off a ton of medical bills. As a result, Christmastimes weren’t always easy, but our four rug rats always had good Christmases with an ample assortment of gifts under the tree.

The one thing we did not do was to go head-over-heels in credit card debt to provide those gifts.

And you know what?

They didn’t suffer any long-lasting ill-effects, nor were they emotionally scarred for life.

And today, each of those now grown-up children with children of their own would tell you that the thing they remember most about their growing-up Christmases were the traditions.

They remember going to Lazy Acres Christmas Tree farm to cut our trees, the honest-to-goodness reindeer that they could pet, and the tractor-pulled sleighs that took us out to the Christmas-tree fields while we sang “Jingle Bells” ... laughing all the way.

They remember hanging one letter on our fireplace mantel each night, beginning Dec. 1, that spelled, “HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO LORD JESUS”. Each child would give his or her meaning of Christmas using that letter to describe some part of the season. The hanging of the letters concluded on Christmas Eve as Dee Ann would bake and decorate a special cake — complete with candles — in honor of Jesus’ birthday.

They remember gathering around the TV to watch ”A Charlie Brown Christmas” and ”How the Grinch Stole Christmas”.

They remember hand-making Christmas cards for the family and their classmates at school.

They remember going to church on Christmas Eve for our candlelight services, and being in Christmas plays.

They remember the Christmas that the church where I was pastor at the time carried gifts to a needy family. While leaving the home that night, we noticed — at a mobile home across the road — three little ones standing in the yard, looking with longing eyes at the boxes that we had carried in to the other family.

We soon learned that those kids had been abandoned by their drug-addicted parents at the home of elderly great-grandparents, who were barely able or equipped to support themselves, much less three small children.

It hit our four offspring like a whack from a two-by-four.

”Daddy, what are we going to do?” 12-year old Kristen said quietly, in tremoring, whispered breath. “I can’t stand this. They aren’t going to have anything for Christmas!”

Even if they, themselves, got less under our own tree, they agreed, they wanted to go and get presents and food for the children.

So, at 9 p.m. that Christmas Eve night, away we went to WalMart (the only store open that late). We quickly called a few of our church members and soon had enough money to give them a Christmas they would never forget. Our own kids were so excited that they could barely sleep that Christmas Eve ... and not because of the fact that Santa was coming to our house.

Early the next morning, before they opened their own gifts, we loaded up and delivered the gifts to that family.

I get emotional even now when I remember their astonished and overjoyed faces when our own kids ran toward them with gifts in hand.

As we drove away, a beaming Kristen leaned over, hugged me, and said: “That’s the best Christmas ever!”

In fact, I daresay that if we were to ask our children today, they probably couldn’t describe more than a handful of the “gifts” they unwrapped over the years.

What they do remember are the special times and the memories that money and “Black Friday” sales could never provide.

By the time Christmas actually gets here, most folks today are so exhausted, frustrated and worn to a frazzle that they are just ready for it to be over.

It shouldn’t be that way.

Spending time with the people in our lives, giving to those less fortunate, baking (and eating!) holiday goodies, decorating the tree, stringing lights across the home place, sending Christmas cards through the U.S. Mail (and NOT social media!), visiting elderly or sick neighbors and folks in nursing homes who may not have anyone else who does care enough to visit, helping out at a food bank or benevolent ministry, and just enjoying the sights, sounds and smells of the season are what matters.

What’s the goal here, anyway? Celebrating our Savior’s birth, or seeing how many of our credit cards we can max out and how many of our peers we can impress?

Time waits for no one, and if you have little ones still at home, don’t make the mistake of thinking you’ll get around to doing those “traditional” things later, because — in the blink of an eye — that little boy who’s sucking his thumb in a booster seat today will soon be a young man walking across a stage to get his high school diploma, or that little girl scrawling in coloring books and playing with her dolls will be walking down a church aisle toward a young man waiting at the altar.

This holiday season, spend less time fighting the crowds and more time making holiday memories that will long outlast any gift found underneath a tree.

That’s my view. What say you?