Column: It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

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Roger VanHaren

The holiday season is really settling in, isn’t it? Thanksgiving is past, and for me that’s always the start of the Christmas season. There’s a lightening of spirits that seems to infuse the days at this time of year, no matter how much commercialization there seems to be. (I refuse to acknowledge “Black Friday” as a part of this season.)

The schools and churches have their Christmas concerts. There are church bazaars and meals for the less fortunate among us. People happily share their time and talents to make the season brighter. The mailbox begins to fill with Christmas cards, and email “green cards” begin to arrive almost daily on the computer.

Traditional favorites like “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “White Christmas,” “Rudolph,” and “A Charlie Brown Christmas” take over the television programming.

I love this time of year. The extra things that people do to brighten the season — both literally and figuratively — add so much to our attitudes. People we don’t even know smile and wish us “happy holidays” or “merry Christmas.” The lights in yards and trees reflecting off the snow and the candles in windows cut through the darkness of the shortening days. The bell-ringers who tend the Salvation Army kettles always seem sincerely grateful for whatever pittances we offer them. The special music of the season fills the air wherever we go these days, and it’s so much more pleasant than the usual “muzak” we hear the rest of the year.

A couple of years ago, at the end of the 10 o’clock Mass at our church, the little preschool children from the Sunday School paraded into church and offered mittens and hats to be placed on the mitten-and-hat tree near the altar. It was cute, but it was also very touching to watch. The expressions on their faces as they came back down the aisle were priceless. I couldn’t help thinking that this is where the attitudes I love so much about this season get their starts. Those little kids learned a wonderful lesson about the spirit of Christmas by that simple little exercise of giving. Their Sunday School teachers, and their parents who bought (or made) the hats and mittens, have instilled in them an attitude of generosity, and the rest of us re-enforced it by a spontaneous round of applause as they presented their gifts.

A year or so ago, near the exit at Shopko, I watched a young mother with a small boy about 5 years old selecting a tag on a little Christmas tree. The tags were each suggestions of gifts for needy kids in the area. I eavesdropped on their conversation as the mother explained to her son what the idea was all about. The little boy was very excited about being part of making someone else’s holiday happier. This was a little boy who I’m sure still believed in Santa, but he was learning about the reality of giving to those less fortunate who need our help. I love this season!

Best of all, my biggest reason for loving this season, is the family gatherings. The days are probably gone when our entire family can all get together in one place for the holidays, but smaller groupings will be arranged and we’ll be in touch via Google Chat or FaceTime or Skype. This is what the season is all about.

Time for me to end this and get to work on setting up the tree and getting the outdoor decorations going. Merry Christmas, everyone!