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What is Christmas really?

Published 6:19pm Monday, December 23, 2013

What is Christmas?
The answer depends on who you are, how old you are, and what you believe. Since I cannot answer for you, I will just tell you what Christmas is to me.
When I was a child, Christmas was a time when a pointy green tree appeared in our house, soon covered with shiny things and lights when we had electricity. Fancy boxes began to collect under that tree but were not to be disturbed until sometime in the future; a long time into the future, it seemed.
A fat, grandpa-type wearing a red suit and hat trimmed in white like his long beard began to appear everywhere we went, and he was called Santa Claus.
I learned that he was all-knowing and that I’d better be good so he would leave presents for me under that fancy tree. I could even tell him what I wanted him to bring me!
Finally, one morning some brand new toys were around the tree for my younger brother and me.
This Christmas thing turned out to be a happy time for everybody!
We all went later to Grandma’s house where there was an even bigger tree and more things to unwrap.
Uncles and aunts and lots of cousins to play with! Wonderful things to eat at little tables set up for us children!
Much better than a birthday. I soon learned that Christmas is a birthday celebration. All of the people mentioned above were Christians or expected to be when they understood whose birth we were celebrating. My understanding took a long time, though, because several years elapsed between my profession of faith in Christ and my baptism into the fold. I kept wondering why I was still such a bad boy when I expected to be a new creature and therefore good, like my Savior.
I am still working on that, but I do think that the reason we celebrate Christ’s birthday by giving presents is because he gave us the greatest possible gift . . . the gift of life with Him and our Father when this life ends. So you see, even as an old man, I am still a child . . . of God!
Fortunate indeed are those who get to celebrate Christmas with family and friends, as I have most of them. Sometimes circumstances cause us to be away from family at Christmas. One such occasion for me was my first winter in the Air Force.
I was going to school at Fort Warren, near Cheyenne, Wyoming, about 2,000 miles from home. The few of us left behind when most went home for the holidays woke up one morning with the howling blizzard of 1948 raging outside our barracks.
There was a long pile of snow in the center aisle that had blown in through the keyhole of the door.
All the johns were broken because their pool of water had frozen solid.
No mercury was showing in the thermometer portion of the thermostat; the furnace blower was not running. We found the duty fireman in the only warm building in our squadron area, the mess hall.
After breakfast, we got our duty assignments; mine was to get a fire going in my barracks furnace. The grate was broken into several pieces, so I propped them up with bricks from the walkways.
I gathered newspapers and got a couple of apple crates for kindling wood, but found very little coal under several feet of snow in the bin. I learned that the first sergeant had stopped deliveries because he wanted all that little stuff burned!
I managed to fill a bushel basket part way with coal about the size of my thumbs by holding the shovel high above it and letting the 60-miles-an-hour wind blow the dust away.
Then a guy told me that there was lump coal down at the cleaners building, so I got some of that. Soon I had a roaring fire going and began to get warm.
My frozen feet and hands hurt so badly as they warmed up that I just sat down and cried, as there was no one there to see or to care. I was 18 years old and spending my first Christmas away from Mother!
But I had blown a month’s pay on a watch for her, almost as much for one for my brother, and had mailed a big package of presents for the others who would be gathered around Mama Rippy’s Christmas tree.
That was my best Christmas of all. Why?
I had finally made the transitions from thinking mostly of myself to others and from getting to giving. I hope you are laying the groundwork now for your best Christmas.

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