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Christmases past lead to hope for tomorrow

'Tis the Season.

My dad just brought home the tree yesterday: a 10-footer with decent foliage and a nice straight trunk. I was well-pleased, especially when I thought back on some earlier years, and some of the other trees we have had standing in our office.

The tree situation has always been a little hit-or-miss, since we tend to get our Christmas trees from the forest. Wild trees grow tough and strong, possess a character that the store bought ones don't have. And best of all, if you know the right people, they are free.

On good years -- and this is a good year -- my dad's chainsaw has felled some remarkably beautiful trees that no store-bought fare could hope to match. Other years, it's more like Charlie Brown's.

Without ornaments it's just a tree -- and so I spent a few hours last weekend sipping eggnog, sifting through my box-full of Christmas ornaments and getting nostalgic. The box itself has been around as long as I have and has the word NATHAN lettered on the lid in neat capitals.

In it I found the porcelain shoe that my pastor gave to me on my first birthday, an effeminate pink glass ornament that I bought in 1999 for no apparent reason, and a Sesame Street ornament that is configured such that Big-Bird's arms flap when you pull the string.

Finally, I found the ornament which nearly brought a tear to my eye: a picture of me -- framed around a multi-colored Christmas bell -- taken when I was a month old, my first Christmas. I look kind of cute in the picture, and looking at it makes me think there may have been a time when my parents had hope for me.

And then there is the set of nutcrackers, which stand like sentinels on the bookshelf, guarding the household, for the entire month of December, from dancing mice and whatever dangers may lurk in the night. They've all collected their share of battle scars over the years.

Colonel Paul, the nutcracker that is supposed to represent me, has a few minor dents on his sword. General Bird, so named for the fact that his left middle finger appears to be permanently outstretched, lost his cotton beard.

It's the intangible concept of the Christmas season -- what it "represents," so to speak -- that inspires me. This concept can best be explained by a story I heard once, and later found to be true with some research.

In 1914, the middle of World War I, British and German forces stationed in Belgium dropped their weapons on Christmas Eve and began shooting carols at each other, in their respective languages. Before long, there were calls for visits to a "no-man's-land," where the soldiers on the two sides met and exchanged gifts, addresses, and even played football, according to some accounts.

This peace spread to other lines, and in some areas lasted until New Year's Day.

The best gift we could give the One whose birthday we are celebrating is to promote peace, wherever we are. Perhaps, not too many Christmas seasons from now, our world will give peace a chance.... and perhaps when the sun rises on New Year's Day, we'll see no reason to let it end.