I’m sure some of you have already started your Christmas shoppin’. You’re puttin’ up decorations and such, and gettin’ ready for visitors, and plannin’ to have a big time. Some say that they wish Christmas was like it was back when they were kids. When I feel that way, I just close my eyes, and go back.

I remember months before Christmas, wonderin’ if it ever would arrive.

I remember prayin’ that if I had to die, to make it after Christmas, so I could see what Santa was bringin’ me.

I remember school durin’ the Christmas season. We’d make Christmas ornaments out of Styrofoam balls with beads held in place with straight pens, then we’d sprinkle glitter all over it. Man, we thought they were beautiful.

We’d make chains of red and green construction paper that reached all the way around the room. We’d sing Christmas songs and each of us would stand in front of the class and tell what Santa Claus was goin’ to bring us.

We were all extra good durin’ that time, too. That’s because the threat of Santa not comin’ to see us if we were bad was held over heads.

We also would be busy getting’ ready for the school Christmas program. Back then, it was still ok to include God in school activities. He hadn’t been expelled yet, so our Christmas programs always included a Nativity play. I was always a shepherd, ‘cause I had a housecoat that my mom had gotten me when I was in the hospital.

“How many of you boys have housecoats?” the teacher would ask. Those of us who did would raise our hands. “OK, y’all are all shepherds,” she’d say.

I didn’t mind bein’ a shepherd, but I always had a hankerin’ to be Joseph. I never got to be Joseph. The teachers said I wiggled too much to be Joseph. I never got to be a Wise Man either. That was OK though; they had to wear shiny dress-like things and I always thought it made them look like sissies.

You should have seen us shepherds. Some of the housecoats we wore were plaid, and some were checkered, and we all had bath towels wrapped around our heads. And of course we all had on our blacktopped tennis shoes stickin’ out from under our housecoats. We looked pathetic.

Luckily, we didn’t have to sing. All the girls would be off to the side on the stage doin’ all the singin’. Everyone, that is, except the one who played Mary.

The play never went off like it was supposed to, but nobody out in the audience knew. We knew, and the teacher knew, but that was it. Afterwards, you had to endure all the hugs and cheek pinchin’ and head rubbin’ from the parents. That goes along with bein’ a star, you know.

At home we’d be getting’ ready for Christmas, too. We couldn’t figure out why Mom always had the snots around Christmas, until she found out she was allergic to cedar. I remember when we got our first artificial Christmas tree. Mom, my sister Teri, and I put the thing together.

Dad was not allowed to help, ‘cause mom caught him the year before nailin’ the tree to the floor ‘cause it kept tippin’ over.

Anywho, when we got it put up we stood back and looked at it. It was beautiful. It was shiny aluminum, and I thought we had become rich. Mom bought all new balls for the tree and they were all blue. Well, all of them except the Styrofoam one I had made in school. Mom put it up front, ‘cause she thought it was so beautiful.

Then Mom would start cookin’. She cooked good stuff, too. She made divinity, fudge, chocolate turtles and a bunch of other stuff. Man, could she cook.

A few days before Christmas, we’d pile into our ’59 Chevy station wagon and head into town. Dad would never say where we were goin’ but we always knew. We were goin’ to Monkey Wards.

Monkey Wards was where Santa Claus was. Man, I couldn’t wait. Santa Claus scares some kids, but he never scared me. I loved Santa Claus. The only part I didn’t like was havin’ to wait in that long line to see him.

My sister Teri always let me go first, that way she could cue me as to what to ask for. I wasn’t as smart as she was, and I’d get so excited I’d forget what to ask for, and she’d tell Santa for me.

On the way home, Dad would drive down through what we called the rich part of town, and we’d look at the Christmas lights. I’m colorblind, so I probably didn’t get the full benefit of the lights, but they were still pretty to me. I especially liked the houses that had all blue lights. Blue is one of the colors I can see pretty well.

Dad would always take us by this one house that had a mechanical Santa Claus that was tryin’ to climb a tree, and there was a mechanical dog beneath Santa jumpin’ up and tryin’ to bite him. The dog had a patch of Santa’s suit in his teeth, and Santa’s suit was missin’ a patch, from the rear end. It was great.

Now, the night before Santa arrived was really excitin’. You see, the local TV station would be trackin’ Santa on the weather radar all the way from the North Pole. They’d break in on regular programin’ like “The Fowler Playboys” show to let you know when he was getting’ close.

Radar back then wasn’t as sophisticated as it is now. It was a round screen with a hand that swept around and each time it passed it would light up a cloud, or in this case it would light up Santa’s sleigh. Even though it was sort of crude, you could make out Santa’s sleigh and reindeer.

“Well, it looks like Santa’s sleigh is moving into the vicinity,” the weatherman would say. “All of you good little boys and girls, better head off to bed.” Man, he didn’t have to tell us twice. Teri and I would take off. We knew that if you weren’t asleep, Santa might pass you by. I’d have my eyes slammed shut, but I’d be listenin’ for Santa to land on our roof.

The next thing I’d know, it would be mornin’. I’d jump off the bed (you always jump, ‘cause that way the things that live under you bed can’t grab your legs and pull you under) and run and peek around the corner. Man, presents were all over the place. Then I’d run back and get Teri. We didn’t have to get Mom and Dad, ‘cause they heard us screamin’ from excitement and they’d join us.

Back then, Santa didn’t wrap presents like he does now. Everything was laid out in the open like it was meant to be. That way, you could take it in all at once, and sometimes it was just too overwhelmin’.

Now, I wouldn’t get everything I asked for, but I sure got a lot of it. I’d always get some kind of toy gun. I loved toy guns, and still do. Once, I even got a whole case of caps for my guns. That’s right, a whole case, and I didn’t even ask for it. I guess after all the guns that Santa had brought me; he knew that I could use a lot of ammo.

I felt sorry for my sister. She never got any good stuff. She got dolls, and a little oven, that actually made cakes, and junk like that. Oh yeah, and those stupid batons that she rattled my brains with all the time. Of course she thought it was good stuff, but I knew better. She did get a little cotton candy machine once that I thought was pretty cool, but that’s only because I like cotton candy.

What was really sad, though, was that Santa only brought my parents one gift each. Their gifts were always wrapped. Dad would dig Mom’s out from under the tree and give it to her, and she’d do the same for him. I don’t remember what Santa brought them, but it must have been good, ‘cause they always hugged and kissed each other after they opened them.

I always saved my stockin’ for last. I knew what was in it ‘cause it always had the same things, and they were my favorite things. There were a couple of tangerines, a bag of little Hershey candy bars (the dark chocolate ones were my favorite), a bag of Tootsie Rolls, and a Book of Lifesavers. Man, that was a Christmas.

Do you know what I asked for this year? That’s right. The only thing I asked for is a couple of tangerines, a bag of little Hershey candy bars, a bag of Tootsie Rolls and a Book of Lifesavers. Oh yeah, and some .22 bullets.

Let me tell you one more thing, the most important thing. Even though we were little kids, we still knew what Christmas was really about. Our parents made sure of that.

We knew we were celebratin’ the birth of Jesus. For us, He was, and still is, the most important part of, not only the Christmas season, but also the rest of the year. Remember, without Christ, there would be no Christmas. And that, my friends, is what the Christmas spirit is all about.

Janet and I would like to wish y’all a merry Christmas, and may God bless each and every one of you.

Rusty Mitchum lives in New Harmony, Texas, where he writes a regular column for The Lindale News and Times. He says the only reason he writes is to keep the voices away.