Commentary: A cherished Christmas memory

Favorite Christmas memories are as varied as the people who experience an event that becomes permanently fixed in the mind.

Mine happened in December 1999, and it involved simple words on a piece of paper.

The green-and-white tags, secured like ornaments to a towering tree with pieces of red yarn, gently fluttered like scores of butterfly wings in the indoor breeze made as mall shoppers hurriedly passed by.

Dozens upon dozens of tags hung there, each with a miniprofile of a boy or girl who hoped that someone would find it in his or her heart to supply a bit of Christmas for a child who might otherwise not have any.

The tags provided a snapshot of the commercialization of Christmas and the corporatization of America's youth -- an alphabet soup of desire.

Interspersed with the generic requests for TVs, CDs and VCRs were appeals for the retail icons of the late 1990s: Gameboy. Discman. Nintendo. PlayStation. Nike. Air Jordan. Tommy. DKNY.

America's youths worshipped at the same altar of advertising hype then as they do today.

Unless a family is totally off the grid, there is no way our kids can escape the incessant suggestions of what's hot, what's happening, what's the must-have item of the year.

Only a bahhing humbug would have begrudged the youngsters whose names adorned the tree tags for wanting the same things as children whose parents were more than eager and financially able to indulge such wishes.

Still, the repetitive petitions for electronic gadgets and color TVs and apparel labeled with the names of anorexic designers or obscenely paid professional athletes were enough to make my head hurt.

Even at Christmas, a time to celebrate the birth of the one who came to save us all from our sins, perhaps it is too much to expect requests for a cross or a Bible to mingle with those for DVDs and high-dollar running shoes.

Then I saw it. The tag that simply bore the name "Christine" and her clothing sizes. No special requests. No demands for electronic gizmos or brand-name merchandise.

Just small sizes -- could anyone really have size 21/2 feet? -- and a statement of fact: Favorite color is purple.

Maybe I read too much into it, looking for meaning when perhaps the child just couldn't make up her mind, but what was unwritten on that green-and-white tag secured by a piece of red yarn to a giant artificial tree summoned like the angels who announced His birth: I will be grateful for whatever you can give.

Her favorite color was purple, the color of royalty.

Her name was a feminine derivative of Christ, the King of Kings.

And she asked for nothing beyond whatever someone felt moved to give.

Shopping for her made a Christmas I will never forget.