When my children were very young, Christmas was a magical time.
On Christmas Eve night, their toys would be brought out from their hiding place and put near the Christmas tree.
The children, tucked in their beds, could hardly wait for Santa to make his appearance in the dead of night.
Their feet would hit the floor early Christmas morn and they would run, pajama clad, to the living room to see what Santa had brought.
It might be a snow sled, or a small riding tractor, a BB gun, or a pink-clad ballerina doll, all sorts of wonders. And packages from the grandparents too. And, surprise, the milk and cookies left for Santa would be gone.
Christmas was a special time for the children.
Then, later, when the children were in their preteens, they still enjoyed Christmas Eve and the morning after. But they no longer stayed awake listening for Santa's reindoor on the rooftop.
The gifts changed, of course. There might be a sweater, a watch, a guitar, or a bicycle.
Usually we traveled to their grandmother's house for a heaping tableful of Christmas dinner.
Christmas changes over time, over circumstances.
It has different meaning at different seasons of life.
When the children were preschool, we used to purchase a live tree which they helped decorate. Once in Indiana, their daddy went into the woods beyond the creek and chopped down our Christmas tree. It was snowing and the children watched anxiously out the window until they spotted him carrying the tree over his shoulder.
We didn't have a lot of decorations but we would string a set of lights, some icicles, and maybe some angel hair. And there was the star that topped the tree.
In succeeding Christmases, the tree was artificial with a color wheel, ornaments, and a store bought metal stand. The six foot artificial tree was safer, with no messy shedding pine needles.
Now in my twilight years, there's a pre-lit three foot fiber optic tree complete with clear ornaments. Just pull it out of its box, insert it into the round plastic base, plug it into the outlet and the tree decorating is done. Not like days of old, but the sentiment is there.
Many of the table decorations remain in their boxes in the basement. Why bother? There's just no room to set all that stuff out. The garland that used to wind around the staircase banister remains stored and the big tree has long ago been disposed of at a flea market. The tabletop tree is sufficient. "Mother," my daughter admonishes.
The days preceding Christmas are filled with activities: taking a bus ride to see the Christmas lights, attending the church Christmas dinner, the live nativities and Christmas parties.
Now that my children are grown, away from home, they still enjoy Christmastime.
My daughter decorates a ceiling-high artificial tree with a hundred ornaments, many with special meaning.
She enjoys receiving and giving gifts. Her collection of nativity globes grows from Christmas to Christmas. And she loves the Jim Shore angel collection.
My son is more practical. Money is always a nice gift to receive, he says. Gift wrapped or in a new wallet.
A rank of wood would be nice too. Or a new chain saw or some tires. He isn't particular. He's more of a humbug participant. But he does like the holiday dinner.
Christmas changes for people who have lost loved ones during the Christmas season. For those, there's a sadness surrounding the holiday.
A friend is now facing a lonely Christmas without her husband. He died a few weeks ago and she is lost without him. Christmas was a special season for the two of them, filled with church and social activities. All the holiday activities they shared together must now be hers alone.
Yes, Christmas is a wondrous time of year. But it has different meanings at different seasons of life.
Often, the real meaning of Christmas is lost in the hubbub of parties, shopping, and flashing lights.
It is the Christ Child we need to celebrate.
The babe in the manger; the Messiah.
Merry Christmas to all.