She's the reason you bake cookies for your elderly neighbors and make costumes for the Christmas pageant.

She's the reason you bake cookies for your elderly neighbors and make costumes for the Christmas pageant.

Southern Mamas believe they have an especially important mission at Christmastime. Yes, Mama wants us to believe in Santa till we're 92. And she still thinks there's no such thing as too much sparkle—on your tree, your house, your table, or your Christmas sweater. (Her wrapping paper matches her Christmas décor.)

That said, Mama wants us to get past our wish lists and social calendars and remember a more important Christmas lesson: This is a season of love, gratitude, and togetherness. There's also room for laughter. (Everybody still talks about The Incident of '95, when a youngster portraying the angel Gabriel in the church pageant mispronounced the "hail" in "Hail, Mary" so that it came out H#ll.)

Of course, Mama taught you about trimming the tree and planning our holiday menu, but there are much more important things your mother taught you about Christmas.

Mama Says . . .

The only acceptable response to a gift—no matter what it might be—is "Thank you so much—this is perfect!" (And don't forget that speedy thank-you note.)

It's the thought that counts. Mama always whips this one out when you open an unfortunate gift that was shipped to you by a beloved but eccentric aunt. Remember Ralphie's rabbit suit in A Christmas Story?

Christmas is not about presents. Mama reminds us of this as Daddy shakes "that really heavy one" by the fireplace for the umpteenth time.

You can't have too many cookies, candies, or pies for friends and family dropping by to wish you a Merry Christmas. Whether you baked those sweets or picked them up at Publix, the important thing is to make everybody feel welcome.

Give the Nativity scene a place of honor—or collect one for every family member like Mama did so you can display one in just about every room. ("Those who Believe . . . Receive!" might sound like it's encouraging kids to believe in Santa, but Mama takes it in a more spiritual direction.)

There's something sweet and wonderful about homemade angel wings—and something special about making them for a four-year-old.

Christmas doesn't have to be expensive to be amazing. Love+Imagination=Unforgettable Christmas.

It's wrong to hold onto toys, clothes, or anything else you no longer use and enjoy. Share with people in need.

Everybody deserves to be remembered at Christmas. Don't get so caught up in shopping, decorating, and entertaining that you forget to take what Mama calls "a little remembrance" to the shut-ins in your community. Visit your senior neighbors who don't get out much any more and those new moms just home from the hospital for baby's first Christmas. Show them all some Mama love.

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You could probably think of 10 or 20 more. For example, we know we're going to Mama's for Christmas—if we know what's good for us.