We find ourselves in the midst of a holiday season unlike any we have experienced.....but the holiday spirit shines brightly nonetheless.

Festive decorations have been appearing throughout neighborhoods, our communities have ushered in the holidays as best they can given the restrictions we all face and Santa Claus is making his list and checking it twice.

For me, traditions have always been a big part of the holiday season. While those traditions may look a lot different this Christmas, there is always the faith and hope that there is a return to something akin to normalcy in the years ahead.

We have our own community traditions that have sprouted up in the years since I have been on the West Side.

Gustine’s Old-Fashioned Christmas at Home, which traces its roots back to a community breakfast started more than 25 years ago, became an ingrained tradition in a community which embraces its traditions and celebrations.

Newman’s downtown Christmas celebration started many years ago as well, bringing families together for Santa visits and more.

The current holiday festivities are preceded by other forms of holiday celebrations that date back many decades in our community.

Others have come about more recently.....such as Gustine’s Christmas in the Parks, which will celebrate its seventh year next Wednesday evening, Dec. 16.

But while we celebrate together as communities, family traditions are at the heart of Christmas.

Many are passed down in some form through generations, with each blending long-standing holiday traditions with their own celebrations.

They may involve gift-giving, worship services, family gatherings, food and so much more.

Christmas is always a special time of year, especially through the eyes of a child, and the memories can be lasting.

The holiday season brings back many childhood memories for me.

One of my earliest memories had to have been when I was around 4 years of age. I clearly recall being determined to stay awake to hear the arrival of Santa Claus up on the rooftop. To this day, I’m convinced that I missed Santa’s arrival by moments that wintry December night, dozing off just before he made his appearance.

A few years later, I considered the start of the holiday season synonymous with the arrival of Christmas  catalogs from the major stores, Penney’s, Wards, etc. Seems like each autumn the catalog would arrive a little earlier......no, modern retailers didn’t start the trend of jumping the gun on Christmas! Today, of course, the internet has replaced those catalogs.....but there was always something special about seeing them arrive in the mail and anxiously thumbing through the pages with anticipation of what each might hold.

I would spend hours on end poring over the toy section of the catalogs and creating my wish list, carefully studying the items on each page and weighing each option....and Santa would always come through with something special.

Christmas was about far more than gifts, as I look back.

I remember my mom setting aside time each year to bake Christmas cookies and make candies, which were then doled out to be enjoyed throughout the season.

Decorating the tree each year was always a highlight of the season.

Special church services were always part of the season as well.....when the weekly lighting of the advent candles began I knew Christmas was at hand; at a special evening program bags of goodies were handed out to the children in the congregation.

I recall taking part in one memorable Christmas program presented by the youth of the church. In keeping with the theme of baby Jesus in the manger, we decided to hold our holiday program in a barn. That night wasn’t the coldest of the year, I’m sure, but I recall that the mercury was hovering around zero. It was one of those December evenings when the snow crunched underfoot as everybody headed back to the warmth of their cars.

We would often host relatives for Christmas Eve, welcoming a house full of people to celebrate the holiday. That Christmas Eve dinner, as I recall, typically included chili and oyster stew (good choices for a December evening). I looked forward to both the company and the hearty soups.

Christmas morning was usually our immediate family only, and then Christmas dinner was enjoyed with grandparents.

There may be a few details that have slipped my mind with time....it has been a few years, after all.

I’m sure there were some variations through the years, as life happened and traditions evolved, but those are some of the highlights that I remember.

We continue to grow, evolve and change, and adopt our own traditions as years go by.

What I most remember from childhood, though, is simply the anticipation of Christmas and the magic of the season, just soaking in all that it had to offer.

It’s December (hard as that is to fathom) and Christmas is just two weeks away...... so savor the season and the spirit of the holidays.

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.