The best Christmas gift I ever gave anyone was the one I gave my father about 20 years ago: a Lionel train set.

Every year, we got him the same gifts, you see.

And every year he’d tell me to tell us, “For God’s sakes, please, no more sweaters.”

As he unwrapped my gift — expecting another sweater — he went speechless when he realized what I got him.

For a few moments, he was restored to the 10-year-old whose mother could never afford to give him such a magnificent gift.

Throughout the first 70 years of his life, he never could afford to splurge on a Lionel train set, which, as every boy knows, is the Cadillac of train sets.

I never got a Lionel set, either, but, like most former 10-year-old boys I’d always longed for one.

So I got a train set for my father and for the next 20 years of his life I watched it bring a child-like joy to him every Christmas, as he set it up under the tree.

I don’t recall exactly when it happened, but somewhere along the way I became very poor at receiving gifts.

I feel joy when I give gifts that bring joy to others — which is selfish, since I rob others of the joy they wish to experience as they see their gifts bringing joy to me.

To that end, the Christmas holiday offers a wonderful opportunity to remember how to experience and share joy — an opportunity to restore what came so naturally to us as children.

That’s because Christmas offers an opportunity to become more childlike — more open-minded, imaginative, silly and playful.

And curious!

“Why?” is the question children ask over and again.

Their minds are wide open trying to understand the world — not closed and judgmental or certain their positions are correct while their opponents are evil fools.

Children are naturally filled with love but much of the evil in our world is caused by hatred.

Hatred is a learned behavior that some adults pass down to their children. Love is innate. Adults must remember how to embrace and spread love.

Children know how to laugh. Laughter is a cure to multiple ills, in particular stress.

Laughter helps us escape the narrowness of our limited points of view — helps us escape our self-importance.

So how do we restore our childlike nature this Christmas?

I wrote a few years ago that the best gifts aren’t generally material gifts. The best gifts are to give our friends and loved ones more of our time.

Enjoying experiences and laughter together is a great way to become more childlike.

Here’s another: my sister, Lisa, makes the adults do a white elephant grab bag every year, which results in some very silly gifts, such as this oldie but goody: a “breaking-wind” machine.

Truth be told, the past year was not one of the easiest for me or my family.

I lost many of my childlike qualities and must restore them, so that I may treat my friends and family members the way they deserve to be treated.

My dad is no longer here, but my vivid memory of him playing with his train set every Christmas inspires me to embrace his incredible childlike joy.

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Copyright 2023 Tom Purcell, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Purcell, creator of the infotainment site ThurbersTail.com, which features pet advice he’s learning from his beloved Labrador, Thurber, is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist. Email him at [email protected].