“I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round, as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.” — Charles Dickens 

When it comes to Christmas, I’m just a big softy.

I love the holiday season and enjoy spending time with just about anyone who’ll invite me in for a sip of hot cocoa and a nibble of fruitcake.

At this time of year, I’m blessed to spend some fine time with friends from work. I get to enjoy an evening with the local Lions Club. My Masonic Lodge will have an informal Christmas dinner as well.

I love the various community Christmas celebrations we have in Osceola County.

I love the Evergreen Festival with its great parade.

I can’t help but get pumped for Evart’s Christmas in a Smalltown.

This year it rained. That’s kind of a pity, but it didn’t stop me from enjoying every minute of the fun — the damp, cold, misty, funky fun.

Christmas Spirit can always be highlighted with a little dusting of snow, but the joy of the season isn’t dependent on a layering of the white stuff.

It was kinda tough to be outdoors for too long this past weekend, and yet lots of families and kids of all ages showed up at The Depot in Evart to welcome Santa to town and kick off the holiday season.

The week before, thousands lined the streets to welcome the Jolly Ol’ Soul to Reed City.

There have been Santa sightings and community gatherings in Hersey, Lincoln Township, Marion and in wide and varied communities throughout the area.

They all were well attended.

But there were also those who didn’t come.

Too bad.

Christmas really is not just a private, stay-at-home holiday. No matter how you spin it, Christmas is a community orientated celebration.

It’s a great time for “A great time was had by all.”

Back in the day ...

Even 100 years ago, folks rarely had a Christmas tree at home. Instead, various churches and organizations would set one up and invite the community in.

Notices in the old newspapers read:

“The Presbyterian church will hold a Christmas Tree on Friday ...”

Or, “A Christmas Tree will be set up in the school house cloak room. Parents may bring gifts for dispersal on Friday ...”

There were big trees set up in prominent intersections. Bonfires were lit. Dances were held in the snow.

Christmas was a time for holiday balls, fetes, and soirees — for the entire community.

That’s how you had fun.

That’s still how I have a lot of fun at this time of year.

An inexpensive gift auction at the Lions Club.

A warm and welcoming table set in this Lodge or that.

Church, school, and community gatherings.

Little or no talk of politics. Lots of talk about family, friends, the events of the year past, and plans for the future.

Good stuff.

And then ... and then there are the too many folks whose idea of quality community time is spending another day shopping; another day standing in line for hours to pay for goods no one really wants and they can’t afford in the first place; another day rushing hither and yon to fulfill the supposed and mistaken duties and obligations of the holidays.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury. I implore you.

Slow down. You’re moving WAY too fast.

Take it easy.

I know people will say I’m naive and just an ol’ hippy, but ...

Whatever else be lost among the years,

Let us keep Christmas still a shining thing;

Whatever doubts assail us, or what fears,

Let us hold close one day, remembering

Its poignant meaning for the hearts of men.

Let us get back our childlike faith again.

— Grace Noll Crowell

Your family, and most important your kids, will remember the home-baked cookies, the Christmas movie evenings, the hot chocolate festivals, and the quiet times with grandma and grandpa, a lot more than they will remember the Xbox or the rest of the crap.

Trust me.

The stuff of Christmas will not ever, EVER be purchased with a credit card.

Real Christmas memories will be created when you spend time with the kids at rainy, chilly holiday gatherings.

Real memories are soggy hayrides, tucked under pungent wool blankets, singing carols, and laughing at the ridiculousness of the situation.

Don’t ever, Ever, EVER think you can buy your way into happy Christmas memories.

Take time this year to spend as much time as you can with family, friends, and community.

As Grandma Tiedt used to say, “Every minute you’re not hugging that baby is gone forever.”

Those holiday hugs are the stuff of Christmas.