Favorite Christmas things

These are the things that put a smile on my face during the holidays.

A young, brawny man carefully wheeling a pink bicycle with training wheels from the store to his car.

The Salvation Army bell ringer greeting everyone with a Merry Christmas and a God Bless You when they drop anything - coins or bills - into the red kettle.

A white-haired woman holding a can of pumpkin and telling a much younger woman how to bake a pumpkin pie.

A little boy toddling along with his mother, holding her index finger and walking up and down the toy aisle, while he exclaims, "Santa's going to bring me this and this and this and this...." Sure hope Santa has deep pockets.

Men with cell phones pressed to their respective ears as they shop. The conversations are, well, darn funny. "Okay, I'm looking at marshmallow cream in a glass jar with a blue decorated label. Is that what you want?" Or, "How many artichokes did you say to buy?" Or "I can't find Dora the Explorer in a medium size doll. Should I get my niece the large one or the small one instead?" Or, "I've been to four stores, and they're all sold out of Elmo's Anniversary doll. Wouldn't a G.I. Joe action figure with weapon be better?"

The local radio station playing endless Christmas music. Yes, it does get tedious after a while, but the first few weeks are wonderful. I sing along which is much better than griping about the traffic.

Watching A Christmas Story about young Ralphie's quest for a Red Ryder BB Gun, which by the way, my husband gave our daughter one year.

Weeping over It's A Wonderful Life when George Bailey cries out, "I want to live again." Then smiling when his brother Harry makes the toast, "To my big brother George, the richest man in town." What a sucker I am, but I like having it affirmed again that you just never know how many lives you touch as you live your own.

The smell of smoke drifting from a chimney somewhere in the neighborhood. Even here in the Houston area, home of heat and humidity, we sometimes light up the logs in our fireplaces. I remember one unfortunately warm Christmas when I turned the AC on high and then built the fire. Not environmentally conscious perhaps, but for a brief moment, I had that crackling Yule log just like the snowy places up north.

My Mom talking about her fruitcake. Though I've never acquired the taste for this dense, candied-fruit, brandy-soaked concoction, I do love my Mom's fruitcake escapades. There was one year when she the annual fruitcake before Thanksgiving, wrapped it in foil, and every day poured a portion of bourbon, I think it was, over it. A couple of weeks before Christmas, she unwrapped it to slice and serve it for dessert. Fortunately, no one struck a match. The fumes and an open flame would probably have blown the house sky high.

The first batch of Texas Trash, my secret recipe for what everyone else calls Chex Mix. Yum. Spicy enough to make your eyes water if you're in the kitchen when I'm cooking up the drizzling sauce.

Oh, and the sweet caramel smell of pralines as I spoon them onto parchment paper will make your salivary glands work overtime.

Unpacking the decorations and putting them up - inside and out. Seeing the sentimental ornaments that snooty decorators would probably label tacky always brings a tear to my eye. There are the pieces of the mobile that hung over our daughter's crib. I dismantled it years ago and have hung it on the tree ever since. Then there's the salt dough ornaments I had all the kids make each summer when it was too hot to play outside and I didn't want them watching too much TV. Ornaments made in school and Sunday school. Photographs from Brownies through Girl Scouts. From each kid's wedding, there's the boutonniere my husband wore and so many other bits and pieces of our lives. It may not be a glamorous tree, but it is a tree that reflects our lives.

Isn't that what Christmas - or whatever holiday you may be celebrating - is all about? Life and love and the best of humanity?

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