I can't believe Christmas is just more than three weeks away. Just a month ago in my column, I lamented the celebration of Christmas before Thanksgiving, but now December is actually here and it's time to reflect on what makes this time of year so special.
Even with the crazy consumerism rampant in America, I still believe Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year. It's a time to give and a time to receive; a time to remember the past and a time to look to the future; and most importantly, a time to think about what's most important in life.
One of my favorite things about Christmastime is giving - and I'm just starting to understand the concept that it's more blessed to give than to receive. I don't have a wealth of money to donate to charity, but even a little spare change in The Salvation Army kettle can go a long way. Imagine if each of the 50,000 or so people in the Copper Country put even a dollar in the kettle.
Money, and the many things it can buy, can go a long way toward making someone happy this Christmas season, but so can time. Sometimes just being willing and able to spend some time helping an elderly neighbor shovel the driveway or listen to a friend in need can be the best gift of all. Receiving that help is such a blessing, but the feeling of helping someone else in need is sometimes an even greater blessing.
Another thing I love about this time of year is looking back on fond Christmas memories. Sometimes it's a simple Christmas carol overheard while shopping or seeing a downtown Christmas decoration that's older than me that sends my mind spinning with nostalgia.
I look back so fondly on near-sleepless Christmas Eve nights hoping "Santa" didn't catch me awake anxiously awaiting the following morning - then waking up my parents at some ridiculous hour of the morning to attack the mound of presents under tree.
Then there's the countless church Christmas programs - playing an animal in the stable as a little kid, or Joseph when I was in high school. Then there's the trips to grandma's house, sometimes literally over the river and through the woods. Then there's ... OK, I'll spare you more trips down memory lane.
Perhaps it was simply my childhood innocence, but looking back, I don't remember all the politically correct "Merry Christmas" vs. "Happy Holidays" debates and the mass materialism that so often try to spoil the season nowadays. In any case, there's so many good Christmas memories, and this is a perfect time to reflect on them.
But I also enjoy Christmas because it's a time to start looking ahead to the future. Even this early in December, I start thinking about what New Year's Resolutions I can make that will last longer than two weeks. I've thoroughly enjoyed the craziness of 2011 that started with my last semester at Michigan Tech and will end more than half a year into my first real-world job - but I'm already anticipating 2012 and the exciting journey it will take me on.
Lastly, but certainly not least, I can't forget to mention what I believe is the most important reason for the season: Jesus. If people realized Christianity is about a relationship with Jesus and not empty religious rituals, the world would be a better place - and I hope it will be this Christmas. Whether you believe in Jesus, his birth is indisputably the original reason for Christmas and it remains the primary motivation for it for many people today, myself included.
Whatever you believe is the true reason for the season, may this column serve as a catalyst to get you thinking about it, and help make this the most wonderful time of the year - for yourself and others. Merry Christmas.
Stephen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.