It is...the only gift you will get this Christmas. And it is the only one you will give.
It is why a pair of socks wrapped in green paper sounds so much like a dinosaur when shaken by a small boy.
It is a middle-aged man, teeth gritted and face darkly red, trying to remain nonchalant as a nubile young sales lady holds up two lacy undergarments and asks him to guess which one will fit his wife.
It is what makes him answer: "The small one."
It is the vaccination protecting a child's belief in Santa from the sound of familiar voices in the attic on Christmas Eve.
It is the meaning of the word "Nintendo" in a 7-year-old's bedtime prayer.
It is why the street person's hunger makes him sad instead of angry. And why the five-dollar bill you hurriedly shove into his shaking hand will be spent on a single Big Mac and a 12-pack of Milwaukee's Best.
It is the only reason a married man shaves before coming to bed. It is what makes his wife believe he's just trying to improve his personal hygiene.
It is the sudden, listening stillness of a woman's kitchen at Christmastime when she hears the screen door latch, even though he hasn't come home in years.
It's what turns the dollar-store, slave-labor, nylon-haired knock-off into a Ballerina Barbie when touched by her 6-year-old fingers. It's what makes her father blink back a tear and silently promise to give her a real Christmas next year.
It is why he can't remember making the same promise when she was five.
It is why we can't imagine Christmas dinner without Gramma, and why Gramma sometimes looks up with a start when she hears her name. It's why she thought, just for a moment, that it was her mother calling.
It is why she isn't sure that it wasn't.
It is the sole motivator for your sister to ever touch an oven. Ever. Especially after what happened last year.
It is the reason you really, honestly thought you were going to eat that piece of fruitcake when you cut it.
And when she has put your children to bed, stuffed the last bit of wrapping paper into a closet, taken the potpourri off the stove, turned out all the lights in your house and finally falls onto the sofa next to you — as you sit quietly with her before the glistening tree — it is the only thing that can convince you that she might love you half as much as you love her.
It is why she does.
It is the reason women weep. It is the reason men fail. It is why every child, at least once in his life, has wanted to cry at Christmas.
It is as precious as a baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger. It is as painful as a flesh-torn hand and a thorn-crowned head. It is the reason for both.
And if every Santa song and earnest prayer, every sincere gift and imagined wrong, every Christmas dinner and New Year's toast, every unanswered invitation and unwelcome guest, every office party kiss and happy child's hug — if every human moment of the entire holiday season could be stripped of its tinsel and pretense and price tag and reduced to its truest essence, we would find it there, the only gift ever given at Christmas, the same gift, passed from hand to hand.
It is Christmas.
Merry Christmas from Michael Graham and 96.9 FM TALK.
UPDATE: Thanks to the Boston Herald for sharing this with their readers on Christmas Eve.