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Christmas Memories
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I have always loved Christmas and its traditions; even as I have grown older, I find that really deep in my heart I still believe in Santa Claus and the spirit of the whole season, and I just can't wait until I see the "Frosty the Snowman" and "Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer" re-runs at this time of year with the grandchildren.

When I was young, we had traditions as I am sure many of you have.

For instance, the tree didn't go up until Christmas Eve. Now that I look back, I think that tradition started because the trees were cheaper on Christmas Eve.

When my dad brought the tree home, usually in the evening on Christmas Eve, the excitement was almost too much to bear.

The duties of the day included going down to the water and gathering a wet bucket of sand for the tree, and my brother and sisters and I would decorate it.

I know we didn't always do it to the right specifications, and the truth of the matter is I still don't according to my wife Molly, but we knew then and I know now that Santa would straighten things out. He always did and still does.

We then would leave Santa some home-baked goodies. It's funny. I never thought about it, but the goodies always turned out to be my father's favorites.

Off we would go to bed. I never could go to sleep it seemed, but somehow I would drift off for a couple of hours, and I would always awaken about 2 a.m., and the house would be pitch black, but I could smell the toys - such smells. I don't think you can smell toys anymore.

What a shame because the smells of a new bike or a wagon or Davy Crockett gun and hat are forever etched in my mind.

The fact that Santa always came when I was in my short fitful sleep just made him seem even more real.

We had a rule at our house - we could not get up until 6.a.m. The four-hour wait to see my toys and gifts was almost unbearable.

In fact, one year I couldn't stand it. I set all the clocks ahead one hour and woke everybody up at what turned out to be 5.a.m.

I can still hear my parents talking to each other about how dark it was outside.

Soon it was time for us to go to morning mass, and for the first time that I could remember we did not have to stand up for the entire mass because of the Christmas crowd because we were there a full hour before everybody else, including the priest.

My parents finally had to tell me at the age of 13 that there was no Santa Claus, and they gave me the old "he is a spirit" speech.

I don't know why I listened because later when they gave me the birds and the bees speech I barricaded myself in the bathroom until they gave up.

Of course, I knew Santa was really a spirit. That's why he knew what I wanted every Christmas and how he knew to come to my house when I was in a fitful sleep.

I think I was told because I was starting to become an embarrassment to my parents, since I was the only kid in eighth grade at St. Mary's that still believed there was a Santa and still wrote him on a regular basis.

The following spring, when my parents had to tell me there was no Easter Bunny, they probably started thinking I could use some help in dealing with reality. In fact, I probably still at times have that same problem.

Later, when I had my own family, we continued my Christmas traditions. To this day, the kids still feel Christmas is not Christmas unless they are with us, and seeing my grandchildren with the sparkle in their eyes after Santa has come brings tears of joy to my eyes and makes my heart skip a beat.

I hope you and your families have a great Christmas, and no matter where you are, give everyone a great big hug for me.

Merry Christmas.

Here is a little toast for you.

"May peace and plenty be the first to lift the latch on your door and happiness be guided to your home by the candle of Christmas."

T. Pat Cavanaugh is the publisher of The Rockdale News.