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Christmas truly the most wonderful time of the year

Christmas evokes memories for all of us. Personally, I love the whole thing. I do not know if it is the brotherhood of man thing, unity, how close we seem due to the cold weather or something else intangible. I know one thing it is: my faith. I have also observed that I was the only radio announcer who could not wait to play Christmas music. Bottom line, I love Christmas.

I have a small family. All of my grandparents had passed by the time I was 12. Aunts and uncles were scattered and rarely seen. When alive, my grandparents lived just across town. Dad worked retail, open until mid-afternoon on Christmas Eve. Holiday meals were at my house with less than 10 people. It was a busy time filled with friends, but very little family.

Then I got married, to a Scandinavian Lutheran no less. She has relatives everywhere. In town, across town, on the farms, across the state. Holy moley, the holidays came and we were off and running with tires burning. It was very odd to me.

I had never learned the art of pacing myself for three holiday feasts in one day. All I knew was an actual formal celebration lasting a day and a half. Now, it was more like a week and a half. One family here, another there. A week later was the only time everyone could get together at the farm.

The second Christmas after we were married we were living in Montana and possessed the golden ticket. We had the first grandchild to both sides of the family. We came home and everybody wanted a piece of that action. That was easily the craziest week I have ever witnessed.

Things have settled down over the last 12 years. We have even hosted a meal at our house (the sure sign of adulthood). But let me tell you, we still hit the highway. I have come to enjoy the travel and craziness. I think it all kindles my fondness to my childhood memories.

A few years ago I was asked if I could state one thing that defines Christmas. It was easy. Christmas Eve service at the Congregational Church. The service started at 11 p.m. on Christmas Eve. At the end, we all lit candles as all other lights were turned off. Everyone was singing "Silent Night" in the dark and when the church bells rang out the hour, it was Christmas.

My favorite part of the service was the annual singing of "O Holy Night" by Jim Uselman. At first he was some mythical figure who was someone's son only home at Christmas. He stood at the front of the church and made magic. He has a voice that literally fills the room. When Jim sings "fall on your knees" it is hard not to hit the floor. The chains on the stained glass windows actually rattled one year.

A couple of years ago, I looked at an old friend during the service and said lowly, "now it's Christmas."

One of the greatest Phillips traditions is the Christmas Eve party. It started off as a small get together at our house after Christmas Eve service with members of the church. Over the years it grew into a grand but simple gathering hosting dozens and dozens. Many of my friends share that memory with me, fondly remembering the party.

Another fond memory recalls right after Dad closed the store on Christmas Eve and we headed to the Tom and Jerry party at the Davises. As a kid I was always disappointed to find that Tom and Jerry was not a cartoon, but a tasty holiday beverage. This too was a grand tradition filled with community. Every year Santa made an appearance. Now how do I put this without blowing the secret? Let's just say in later years I looked good in a red suit.

Christmas Day was quiet at the Phillipses'. We shared gifts and a traditional meal. For a family that would never be accused of being reserved, it was very reflective. I will never forget the year that Santa had taken the time to set up a tent in the living room. It was a gift for my sister and me. It should be noted that this was a time long before dome tents. Using furniture as stakes was not only clever, but mind boggling as a kid.

So that's it. That is how I remember Christmas. There are many other memories I could share. These are the best. One tradition has let to many more. They are all good. My only hope is that I can poke you a little to conjure up your fondest memories. Your stories are better than mine -- just because they are yours. Merry Christmas.