"Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful." -- Norman Vincent Peale
Growing up in a home overrun by nine siblings allowed for moments of great revelry. The hours spent with each other, sharing in the times at rest and at play, contain some of the best memories of my childhood. When I think of treasured moments that cascade across my mind, I am reminded of the impressions of Christmases past. The moments filled with the season of wonder and joy. The decorating of the tree, writing letters to Santa, baking cookies while the pleasant aromas of almond and vanilla hung in the air, constructing the handcrafted gifts for those most loved and attending midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.
It was a time for families to gather and create new memories to hold dear to their hearts. In recalling past holidays, three words come to mind: faith, hope and love. The faith that there was a higher power who watched over us each and every day. The hope of a better today and the tomorrows still to come. The love of family and good friends preparing a meal and breaking bread as one. Although unseen, I felt the presence of a being greater than those around me. These three emotions were the reasons that this particular time of year filled my heart with such magic.
One of my favorite recollections is that of Christmas morning and the traditions that were integral to my family. Before my parents would allow their children to open up the presents from Santa, we were required to sing "Happy Birthday" to baby Jesus. Mom would always bake a layered cake and artfully script the words "Happy Birthday, Jesus." A single candle was placed on top. The entire family would gather around the tree and sing to celebrate the newborn's welcoming into the world. Each of us helped to blow out the candle while making a wish for what the new year would bring. My dad would then bend down and remove the cover -- a tiny blanket that protected the swaddling infant in the manger until Christmas morning -- from the figurine of the Christ child. We would all stand back and marvel at the meaning of it all. A child born unto the world to serve as our savior. In our family, this act of reverence was significant to our religious beliefs and to all that my parents held sacred. At the time, I could not fully appreciate the significance of this family observance.
I am now mindful of what Christmas meant then and what it means in the present day. In my youth, one filled with the excitement of the jolly old elf and stockings hung by the chimney with care, Christmas carried an important meaning. I comprehended an air of great consequence because everyone seemed to be a bit kinder and more caring. The heartfelt sentiment was still remiss to me. With many days now gone by, the emotions attached to this special time have grown to include a kaleidoscope of faith, hope and love. A hope for a new beginning and a time of renewal, not only in a sense of religious traditions, but in those rooted to the spirituality of my soul. A soul that has come full-circle in its understanding of what Christmas means to me.
In this lifetime, I have learned that Christmas magic is powerful, but the power in our hearts is even more magical. Our ability to love one another, to renew our faith and bring hope into our lives and the lives of others, are the greatest of gifts to bestow and receive. Christmas is indeed a time for sharing in gift giving and celebrating, too. And yet, the greatest gifts are not those wrapped in fine papers or dressed in colorful bows. They are those given with an open heart, one wrapped in the lovely ribbons of faith, hope, and love. To quote Charles Dickens' classic tale, "A Christmas Carol," "I will honor Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year." Words of wisdom that should be echoed on this day and all the days yet to be.