You would think that after 40-some Christmas mornings, my holiday memories would revolve around mounds of presents, songs and scents of the season, and church services filled with tradition and familiar faces.

But what actually springs into my mind is a mental snapshot of a scene in my parents’ house, early every Christmas afternoon.

There, in the center of a room filled with their four children excitedly hustling back and forth to review opened presents, and littered with torn wrapping paper and shredded ribbons – there would be my parents, lying stretched out and face up, sound asleep.

In our younger days, before we were burdened with real lives of our own, my sisters and I used to comment (rather loudly, as I recall) that it seemed inconceivable that any worthwhile person could actually sleep through Christmas, particularly in the middle of a room filled with activity. (Our exact words were a little harsher, of course.)

Later, as we gained the wisdom that comes with high school and college, we remarked further that such obviously lazy habits in the midst of such excitement could be expected from people who didn’t really seem all that focused on the needs of others.

And so it was that this rather unflattering vision of my parents stayed frozen in my mind – until a couple of years ago when my own children became old enough to anticipate the excitement of Christmas morning.

Having spent Christmas Eve, and a good portion of Christmas morning, working with my wife to assemble bikes and basketball hoops and table-hockey sets and battery-operated cars and trucks and video games and wrapping countless presents and counting gifts over and over again to ensure no one was being favored and stuffing candy in stockings and making sure that Santa’s milk and cookies were properly addressed, the snapshot of my parents came into focus more clearly.

Now I knew why my parents wasted the excitement of Christmas day with naps: They had already sacrificed their day so that my sisters and I would have a holiday to remember.

And we always did.

To an even greater extent, that spirit of sacrifice is evident among the neighborhood heroes you’ll find profiled in this month’s Advocate, people who go out of their way every day to make someone else’s life a little better.

Of course, these neighborhood heroes don’t see it that way, and neither did my parents. They won’t ever tell you they made any great sacrifice.

It’s just part of the job description they’ve drawn up for themselves, a description perhaps more challenging than the one many of us draft. And who among us would begrudge them a little recognition, or a little sleep, in the midst of the excitement that wouldn’t occur without them anyway?