By Garrett Hawkins

The holiday season arrived swiftly this year, and the pace only quickens as I advance in age— or at least that is how it feels. It seems just like yesterday my siblings and I were fighting over the JC Penney and Sears Christmas catalogs in August and driving our parents crazy until December 25th.

In my early years, we lived in a small, old white house on the farm. It was the house my dad was raised in, and in the winter we relied on wood stoves in the living room and kitchen for heat. Dad put straw bales around the north side of the house and heavy plastic on the storm windows to try to keep the cold air out.

Our home was cozy. Mom would say too cozy, at times, when the fighting started on the first day of Christmas break. To keep us kids occupied when we weren’t outside, she would pop a huge Tupperware bowl full of popcorn for us to string for homemade tinsel. When that didn’t work, she gave us construction paper, scissors and glue to make paper chains for the tree.

My favorite pre-Christmas festivity as a child was our country church’s Christmas program and the potluck lunch that followed. The highlight was the singing of the “Little Drummer Boy” by the ladies of our church. It was an annual request from our pastor, and oh how we all loved hearing that glorious carol. When we headed home, we left with bellies full of great food and a brown paper bag for each of us containing Brach’s chocolates, an orange and a pack of Wrigley’s chewing gum.

Christmas Day itself was always memorable, from the excitement of waking up Christmas morning and finding presents under the tree to time spent with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. One Christmas was different than all the others though. I remember Dad pulling our Ford Bronco into the driveway one Christmas night and finding a lone figure sitting on the concrete step under the carport. The neighbor boy who lived a half-mile down the road had been waiting for us to return to wish us a Merry Christmas. While we visited, mom grabbed a gift for him. His face lit up when he unwrapped a Masters of the Universe figurine. I was too young to understand at the time that the small gift was likely the only present he received that Christmas.

Much has changed in our world since I was a boy, but I can’t help but be thankful for my upbringing and the many blessings I really didn’t deserve. Jennifer and I are making our own traditions with our children and trying to instill in them an appreciation for every moment we have together.

As we celebrate this season, I hope you find joy in remembering Christmases past and make the most of time spent with family and friends. Let’s count our blessings and remember we can be a blessing to someone else, perhaps the neighbor down the road.