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The secret

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It's Christmas this week — can't you hear all the little kiddies yelling "AT LAST!" all over town? — and this time of year always gets The Observer thinking about Christmases past. No, we're not talking about that bit of underdone potato — more gravy than grave — that assailed old Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens' most ghostly of Xmas tales, but it feels like that sometimes. The older we get, the more we feel like we've been whisked away into the past around Dec. 15 and are held hostage there until after New Years Day — as if every colored light plants our feet ever more firmly with one in history, one in the present, and a toe edging toward the still-percolating future. As much as we'd rather be publicly flogged than hear Barry Manilow sing "Silver Bells" one more time, though, we can't bring our self to be one of those Bah, Humbuggers when it comes to Christmas. We do still love it so.

The Observer was a quick study in our youth, so The Great Secret of Christmas Eve was self-revealed to us a bit quicker than some of our peers. That said, we had at least seven good years there — and, to be honest, two more where we were HOPING it was true — where Christmas morning was all about the magic, wondering at tiny reindeer on the roof, what Santa thought of our cookies, and how exactly he squeezed himself through the keyhole.

Our dear old dad, who had grown up dirt poor in College Station, loved the holidays. He was a very early riser, a trait he picked up in Army boot camp and never shed himself of. At 3 a.m. on Christmas morning, it was always him that shook The Observer and his brothers awake, telling us that Christmas morning was here — that Santa had came and went in the twinkling of an eye and a puff of chimney soot, leaving good things behind.

Back then, our favorite feeling in the world was waking up on Christmas morning and heading downstairs to see the goodies stacked around the tree. Ma had bought us all knitted stockings some years before — stretchy jobs, each a good two feet long even before the stuff went in. Those stockings were always the best part for The Observer, even better than the wrapped presents: the colorful stockings, too heavy to hang, lying on the hearth as lumpy as a cartoon snake that had eaten its weight in apples and oranges and candy.

Our own son is 12 now, and figured the whole business out long ago, maybe even quicker than his Old Man. He's smart like that. That said, his mother and father will still be creeping around the house after he's gone off to dance with sugarplums on Christmas Eve, the two old elves sneaking goodies out of hiding places and stashing them in the living room, filling the stocking to overflowing. Is it wrong to keep something like that a part of Christmas, even after magic has given way to understanding? If so, we don't want to be right. We never, ever want to be right about that one.

The Observer has been a father awhile now (we'd even consider our self an old hand at it) and we can tell you from experience what our dad obviously knew: The joy of waking up to find presents on Christmas morning is nothing compared to the joy of waking up somebody else to find theirs.

Happy holidays, everybody. The Observer sends all the blessings in the world your way.

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