But there is an alternativeSteve Hammer

I hate Christmas. Don't get me wrong; I'm really not that much of a Scrooge. I like to buy people presents and, more importantly, like to receive them as well. I don't go around vandalizing people's inflatable Santas in their front yards. It's a fact that when you get what you want, you sometimes lose what you had. In the case of Christmas presents, wanting and giving are better than receiving.

I just hate Christmas Day itself. I love the weeks leading up to Christmas and I especially enjoy the week between Dec. 25 and Jan. 1, which I always take as vacation time. That's the best week of the entire year to drink booze and lounge around the house, which coincidentally happen to be the things I am best at on this planet.

But Christmas Day historically has been a letdown for me. I suppose it's the difference between desiring and receiving something. I remember as a child looking forward to Christmas for months and months and then being let down on the big day itself.

It's not that my parents were too cheap or too poor to buy the toys I wanted; in fact, probably just the opposite. They were infinitely more giving than I ever will be.

It's a fact that when you get what you want, you sometimes lose what you had. In the case of Christmas presents, wanting and giving are better than receiving.

Take, for example, the Holy Grail of my childhood years, the Evel Knievel X-2 Sky Cycle, the one object I adored above all others c. 1974 or so.

In the television ads, it was a huge rocket, able to cover vast distances, almost like an Apollo rocket except with Evel Knievel at the controls. Even though the real X-2 barely made it off the launch pad the one time Evel used it, the toy version was far, far better.

At least according to the ads it was. The TV ads made it look like it would sail hundreds, if not thousands, of feet into the air. It could be used as a transport device for bugs and small animals as well, if the ads were to be believed.

Of course, when the day came and I received the X-2, to go along with my Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle and Scramble Van, I was saddened.

It was a cheap molded piece of plastic that moved about 2 feet across the ground, no matter how hard you revved up the crank that charged it. Knievel not only could not jump the Snake River Canyon with the X-2, he could barely clear an array of Hot Wheels and Barbie heads, let alone something as large as an E-Z Bake Oven.

The Ideal Toy Company was lying to me, but it took money my parents probably didn't have for me to realize that. They bought the X-2 Sky Cycle in good faith but they were being conned by the system just as much as I was.

That's why I hate Christmas.

I see my niece lust after expensive gifts advertised on TV and my sister and brother-in-law struggle for a way to get the most important of them while still being able to pay the bills.

That's why I'm hard-core about what I get her. As an uncle, it is my solemn duty to purchase presents which will be immediately despised as unusable, or, even worse, educational in nature.

Last year I got her an art book with markers that tried to get you to duplicate the masterpiece paintings of the world. This year, I'm thinking of getting her a children's book on the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson.

Or maybe a book on the Constitution or the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty will be her prize. Anything I can do to remind the kid that people have to buy gifts with money they earn with their sweat and, sometimes, blood.

I always hated the aunts and uncles who bought me socks or sweaters for Christmas when I was a kid. I either didn't know or didn't care that there were other kids who weren't getting shit, kids who woke up on Dec. 25 and said, "Christmas missed us."

The money that I would have spent on a freakin' Lindsay Lohan doll for my niece will go instead to help a family in need, so maybe their Christmas won't suck as much.

And I drop a few bucks into the Salvation Army kettles if I see one. It is, quite literally, the least I can do.

The Godfather of Soul says, "A little love won't hurt." It's not that damned hard to not buy a $50 gift for a bratty niece or nephew and make sure someone else gets at least one toy and some clothes for Christmas.

This is the time of year where everyone is supposed to be giving, right? So why not help out if you can? I'm not saying I'm a philanthropist or anything, but there are thousands of people in our very city who need a hand right now.

More than that, they need to be shown that somebody cares. So even though I have never cared for Christmas, and have never been really deprived of anything important, more than anything else, this year I want to care about some-fuckin'-body other than myself.

A fat dude in the newspaper alone can't do much, but for all the single moms out there struggling, all the young couples who can barely keep the lights on, all of the people who've lost a loved one recently, I care. And I'll try to back that up with some good works and action, not only at Christmas but in all of 2005 as well.

John Kerry lost. Help is not on the way. We've got to look out for each other now. That's what Christmas means to me. Happy holidays to all.