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Churches like St. Michael's Church in downtown Charleston are packed during the church's Christmas pageant in 2017. 

Well, here we are, the day before Christmas and if you haven’t done something by now, does it really need to be done? I’ve said before I would be in favor of lengthening the month of December. There’s a pretty good chance, though, it might just give us more time to procrastinate.

Christmas Eve has actually become a time I anticipate as much as Christmas Day itself. It starts a period where the family will be together in church later today and with each other again tomorrow. Back-to-back days together is a rare occasion.

At this stage in my life, I’m really along for the ride. I no longer am that involved in the planning and execution of most events — I’m usually just told when I should be there.

It’s during these moments, though, that one gets to look around at the various personalities that are evolving and the family dynamics that are developing. Sometimes these moments are subtle discoveries. At times, they bring a knowing nod and a smile.

Having multiple generations under one roof for a period of time can certainly create its share of chaos, but it’s usually temporary. And for the most part, it’s the older souls in the room who are the more patient and understanding.

It’s not necessarily because we’re kinder and gentler, I think it has to do more with selective memory.

Chubby cheeks

One of my earliest childhood Christmas memories centers around the time I was 5 or 6 years old. My younger brother, Bobby, and I were forced to stay in the house because we both had the mumps. It was a rather common viral infection during those days. It’s quite contagious and takes about a week to run its course.

This infection affects the salivary glands and creates a noticeably swollen jaw. Talk about a pair of sad little boys. All we could do was stare out the window watching other children play with their toys.

Ever seen a chipmunk with his mouth full of whatever chipmunks eat? That’s how somebody with the mumps looks. It’s been 60 years since that Christmas, yet I still remember two little boys with chubby cheeks looking out the front room window. I’m also pretty sure we were both wearing pajamas with feet in them.

I bet you, too, have a memory of something that you often recall at this time of the year. Hopefully, it doesn’t involve an infectious disease, chubby cheeks and pajamas with feet in them.

Thinking of others

As we gather with our memories and our loved-ones the next couple of days, let’s not forget those who will be working. They’ll have to adjust schedules and compress their time together. Nurses, police officers, firefighters, hotel workers, taxi drivers and EMS techs — they’ll all miss some moments with their families while we’re opening presents or passing the gravy.

At various hospitals, the maternity ward is often a special place to be on Christmas Day. There’s often even more fuss about a newborn that arrives on the 25th.

Meanwhile, as much as some things change, some things stay the same for me on Christmas Eve. I’ll be in a candlelight service trying to get through all the verses of "Silent Night." My voice will crack, a lump will form in my throat and tears will trickle from both eyes.

I can’t really identify this emotion or the reason for the reaction. It’s been that way for most of my adult life. I don’t try to explain it or justify it — but I know it’s coming.

Sometimes, maybe the most meaningful parts of this season are those we don’t orchestrate. Let’em just happen and wash over you.

If you need to lighten the moment, just picture two little boys with chipmunk cheeks looking out the window.

Reach Warren at peperwarren@gmail.com

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