Christmas has largely gotten swamped by gifts and lights and candy and trees and tinsel and endless, tiresome and somewhat insulting commercials; by decorations and shopping and overspending and bad movies and Santas wearing ill-fitting suits trying to plug into a strange though somewhat enjoyable and generally harmless ritual. A few days ago I was strolling through a local shopping mall with my wife. We passed the centerpiece get-your-picture-taken-with-Santa display. Santa had stepped away from his sleigh and was standing near the rope barrier, greeting the occasional adult who walked by. We shook hands. I noticed Mr. Claus was missing his traditional waistline heft. “You’re looking a little thin, Santa,” I offered. “Need to have a few more reindeer steaks.” He wagged a gloved finger. “You’re on the naughty list this year.”

I enjoy the candy and cookies and egg nog and lights and food and songs and Santas as much as anyone. But don’t miss the real Christmas story. It’s better than anything you’ll find at Wal-Mart or Target or Macy’s or Amazon.

A few Christmas-related facts:

Angels have names (Luke 1:19). Politicians have always been sketchy (Luke 2:7-8); sometimes criminal (Matthew 2:16). Angels converse with humans (Luke 1:18-20; 32-38). Shepherds work at night (Luke 2:8). There were at least two but no specific mention of three Magi (Matthew 2:7-8). They almost certainly were not kings. There were at least three gifts (Matthew 2:11). The Christ was born into humble surroundings (Luke 2:11-12). It was almost certainly not on December 25. Refugees seeking to escape from tyrants aren’t new (Luke 2:13-14).

Read it for yourself. The story is in the New Testament letters of Matthew and Luke. There’s nothing else like it. Here’s a snippet:

“You will be with child and give birth to a son, and  you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” . . . “While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she give birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”

I wish you and yours a safe and Happy Christmas. But don’t forget to look around. Sadness, strife, heartache, pain and need surrounds us. Someone needs a kind word; a helping hand. Someone you know. Someone close. Offer one.