Oh boy! It's Christmas time - my favorite time of the year.
I love Christmas. I love giving presents. I love singing Christmas carols. I love the smell of cookies as they come to life in the oven. I love the hustle and bustle of Christmas shopping. I love the wide-eyed wonder of little children. I love watching "It's a Wonderful Life" and "A Christmas Carol." Heck, I even love fruitcake - just not in large doses.
As a child, I remember lying in bed on Christmas Eve and wondering if Santa Claus was really going to come to my house.
For one thing, we didn't have a chimney, which unnerved me a bit. But more than that, I had been taught that a visit from Santa wasn't a slam-dunk - that he rewarded children who had been nice, but not those who had been naughty.
I knew I was right on the cusp every year. Sure, I went to Sunday school and church and said, "Yes ma'am" and "Yes sir" to adults, but I also poured salt in the sugar jars at the Red Bird Café when nobody was looking, ran away from kindergarten because I didn't want to take a nap and deftly placed ink spots on the necks of the kids who sat in front of me in class to see if they washed their necks at night. (You'd be surprised how many didn't.)
As you can imagine, a Christmas visit from Santa was always touch-and-go.
I am happy to report that a magnanimous and forgiving Santa Claus managed to overlook my deficiencies every year with train sets, baseball gloves, bicycles and other neat stuff. Every Christmas morning, I heaved a sigh of relief and swore I would keep the "naughty" list down to an absolute minimum before the next Christmas rolled around. It was pretty much a losing battle.
A lot of Christmases have come and gone since those days of my dissolute youth.
I have watched two little moppets who never had to worry about Santa coming to see them, because they were always more nice than naughty, grow up and become responsible parents with children of their own.
I have seen four excited little grandboys who could rip into presents faster than piranhas can strip a big fish, morph into strapping young adults who are the epitome of "cool."
I have witnessed the politically correct crowd try to stomp out the spirit of Christmas at every turn. They are modern-day Grinches whose shoes are too tight and whose hearts are two sizes too small. But they serve to remind us that we should focus more on the real meaning of Christmas - and it is not Santa Claus, presents, parties, decorations and Black Fridays.
Christmas is the time we Christians celebrate the birth of Christ to a virgin mother in a manger in Bethlehem. His birth, death and resurrection form the foundation of our faith, and the PC police can never take that away from us if we believe. Let me suggest we lower the decibel level and reflect on the real miracle of Christmas. Be still and know.
As has been our custom for many years, we gather at church with friends on Christmas Eve and soak up a Christmas message from Dr. Gil Watson, the World's Greatest Preacher, guaranteed to be so riveting it would slack-jaw ol' St. Peter. (I swear, if I could ever get that ACLU crowd to church, Dr. Gil would have them gnashing their teeth and asking for forgiveness of sins before we ever got around to taking up the collection. The man can preach.)
After celebrating Holy Communion, we light candles, the sanctuary lights dim, and we sing "Silent Night." At that precise moment I feel closer to God than at any other time of the year. And like that little boy of long ago, I always swear I will keep my "naughty" list to an absolute minimum before the next Christmas rolls around. Alas, after all these years it is still pretty much a losing battle.
Merry Christmas to you and yours.
E-mail columnist Dick Yarbrough at firstname.lastname@example.org.