I open this Christmas morning with a fable:
"Long ago there lived a nobleman who fell upon hard times after the untimely death of his wife.
He was distraught, having no means to provide a dowry for his stunningly beautiful daughters. A certain kind and generous patron happened by and heard the family's cries. Knowing the nobleman's pride would prevent him from taking charity, the patron hatched a scheme.
He returned to the sleeping house that evening and saw that the daughters had hung their washed stockings by the fire to dry. He crept in through the chimney and placed a bag of gold coins in each sock, enough for them to wed and more. Upon waking and finding the treasure, the family was much rejoiced and thankful for their good fortunes."
This is either the story of a charitable man helping those in need, or of a very confused cat burglar. Either way, it is the legend, in one form or another, of how we came to hang stockings by the fireplace each Christmas in hopes of getting — if not a dowry — a sock full of candy, toys and jewelry.
Though our needs today are certainly no greater than they were for people hundreds of years ago, our stockings have grown larger. Interesting.
I love filling the stockings each year; stuffing them with things no one asked for, small surprises and mundane gifts. That's what sets the stocking apart; the gifts under the tree are asked for and expected — luxury items. But in the stocking, needs are met.
I'll put in toothpaste and soap, pencils and notepads, potatoes and onions. And chocolate. I am outnumbered by women in our house. Yes, chocolate is a need.
Each year when Thing 1 and Thing 2 pull vegetables from their stockings, I get the same disgusted, confused look; as if I were their Grinch. An hour later when I've made them the world's greatest breakfast, they are no longer so irritated with me.
This afternoon we'll go to my mother's house, where we will find more stockings waiting for us. Rather than gold coins, she'll give us underwear we'll never wear, lottery tickets and a pocket-sized barium enema kit.
I'm no nobleman. But when my daughters are of marrying age, the lucky young men they fancy had better realize what the real treasure is and not come seeking bags of gold. Yet there are a few other things I would like to put in their stockings:
A healthy diet, flossing every day and the joy of exercise.
I'd put in peace — peace in themselves and appreciation of their own unique beauty as opposed to some manufactured, airbrushed, untrue and impossible image that daily confronts them in our culture.
The deep and lasting knowledge that they are loved, so deeply loved.
I wish I could put a bag of discernment in there too — the ability to recognize all the right and wrong decisions in life and to choose the more rewarding path over the easier one.
Some affordable, quality health care that they could share with everyone.
Cities free of plastic grocery bags and the county supervisors who don't support their ban.
Really, truly understanding that happiness does not come from monetary wealth. But also financial wisdom to go with any bags of gold they may find in future stockings.
The ability to avoid every gateway drug moment.
Clean, renewable energy.
A more patient father.
To always have their basic needs met, so when their wants are met, they appreciate it all the more.
To know when to work hard, and when to simply relax with a glass of wine and friends.
Knowing the difference between fairness and envy.
The confidence to stand up to bullies, whether defending themselves or someone else.
The ability to live up to their standards and dreams. And grace when they get there.
I wish them good movies, with storytelling to match today's amazing special effects (yeah, I'm talking to you, "Tron: Legacy" producers).
A good, trustworthy mechanic, reliable cell service, truth in advertising and meaningful campaign finance reform.
A government that doesn't play games when people's lives are at stake, that is united, not torn apart by partisan stonewalling and self-interest.
A world where the greed of a few does not lead to poverty for so many.
True compassion for others, and admiration for those defending our country, too many of whom are so far away from it today.
I wish for them that the real meaning of Christmas — as told by Linus in "A Charlie Brown Christmas" — would not disintegrate a little more each year.
I'd give them the skills to drive in rainy weather, separating them from most other Angelenos.
As a matter of fact, I'd put all this in your stocking too.
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.
PATRICK CANEDAY is author of the upcoming book "Crooked Little Birdhouse." Check it out at http://www.patrickcaneday.com. He may be reached on Facebook and at firstname.lastname@example.org.