Christmas is a time of great tradition and meaning for many people, some of which date back generations and others which are newly forming as families evolve.

The Christmas holidays of my youth typically followed a pretty well-practiced routine, if I am remembering correctly (it has been a few years, after all).

The holidays had their own routines, their own rhythm, which we followed pretty closely each year.

Christmas Eve was a soup night, chili and oyster stew, served up to a house full of relatives from my mom’s side of the family who would converge on our farm house for the evening. Christmas morning was usually our family’s time to open gifts, and that evening we visited my paternal grandparents for Christmas dinner.....and, of course, more presents.

While those two days represented the culmination of the holidays, it seemed to me like the entire month was one of anticipation.

When the weekly lighting of the advent candles at church began, it was kind of like a countdown to Christmas. Well, actually, it was a countdown to Christmas.

We always had an evening Christmas celebration at church as well, and for at least a few years we (the church youth) would present some sort of Christmas program as well. Often on the same night, if memory serves correctly.

One particularly stands out in my mind.

Somebody had the idea of holding the Christmas program in a barn, which I believe was meant to be symbolic of a stable.....what a perfect setting for a holiday narrative portraying the birth of our savior.

It was a wonderful idea. We pre-recorded our lines, went through a couple of practices and were set to go. I think the program generally went well. The only drawback was, well, you were in a barn in the middle of December in Iowa. The night of the program, it was well below freezing....actually, the mercury may have been a little south of zero. Whatever heaters may have been brought in did little to cut the chill. It was one of those still Midwestern winter nights when the the frigid air was painful to inhale, and snow loudly crunched under foot.

We only used a barn venue once, but in retrospect I’m glad we did. It was a Christmas experience to remember.

Another very special day was the one set aside by my mother to make a variety of Christmas cookies and often candies....from caramel drops to chocolate-covered peanut clusters to one of my favorites, white almond bark. Mom would work through the day (if not multiple days) to produce and stockpile the variety of treats to be doled out each day leading up to the holidays.

That was many Christmases ago, of course, but the memories of those treats and tradition live on.

Now we have become not only the parents but the grandparents in the familial hierarchy, a wonderful role to fill and a whole new chapter in life.

And even as Christmas has become increasingly commercialized with a focus on material things, we focus less on “things” and more about what is really important.

Kat and I have not bought each other gifts in the traditional sense for several years now.

We typically give ourselves the gift of some time away together, which has ranged from full-fledged vacations to a simple night or two away.

We don’t really have any “things” that we need, we enjoy time together and it eliminates the pressure of having to find just the right gift.

Don’t get me wrong, Christmas presents are always going to be in the works for our grandchildren....hey, it’s Christmas, after all, and seeing the excitement in their eyes for all that surrounds the holiday is special.

But we are giving serious thought to extending our “no gift” policy to our kids, we’ll see what happens.

If there is one downfall of Christmas, I believe, it is that too many people set such high expectations.....the flawless tree, the perfect present, the drama-free family gathering, the meal prepared to perfection....and then are disappointed when not everything lives up to what they had hoped.

Christmas is not about those things.

It is about faith and family, loving and being loved, sharing good cheer, extending a helping hand to others less fortunate, wishing family, friends and strangers alike “Merry Christmas.”

Not happy holidays, or some other generic, watered-down greeting.

It’s Christmas.

Here’s wishing you and yours a safe and very merry one indeed.

Dean Harris the Managing Editor of the West Side Index and Gustine Press-Standard. He can be reached at dharris@mattosnews.com or by calling (209) 243-8104.