“What are some of your favorite Christmas memories?” was the seasonal question at a recent gathering.

It was a good question, too. Very timely, in fact.

Christmas, it’s often been said, is for children. It certainly is for one Child.

My own childhood memories of Christmas are all good. Sure, our family had its financial ups and downs through the years. Many years, money was tight. Looking back, I’m often amazed at how much my parents did for their four children each Christmas.

Somehow, some way, they made every Christmas special. The magic of Christmas was always there. From the turkey and dressing (no one makes a turkey like my mother), to watching seasonal movie classics like “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “White Christmas” or the saddest movie ever made, “All Mine to Give,” to inviting friends who had no close families and nowhere to go on Christmas, my parents always made Christmas a very, very special time for us. And how they did it was no minor miracle. I swear, my mother could stretch a dollar so far it would make Elastic Man envious.

For me, the best memories of Christmas no longer include the traditional gifts. Naturally, as a child, I was always pleased with any Christmas present that did not involve clothing. If I opened a neatly wrapped box and pulled out a sweater or a pair of trousers (nobody calls them “trousers,” anymore), you can bet I quickly tossed it aside and moved on to another package.

I was never excited about any gifts – unless you could play with them, ride them, shoot them, toss them or catch them.

One year, I remember getting a baseball glove, a football and a basketball for Christmas. Pardon the hockey reference, but this was the hat trick of all hat tricks for me. (My wife, Pam, has always liked hockey, so she can explain what a hat trick is.)

My three sisters seemed to be OK when their gifts involved clothes or shoes or jewelry. However, I did not share their enthusiasm when a well-meaning grandmother gave me a sweater one Christmas. I’ve never worn it.

However, Grandmother Kathleen (Katy) made amends on my birthday one year by making a cake to my exact specifications: 1/2 inch of chocolate cake covered with 3 inches of chocolate frosting, and a gallon of chocolate ice cream on the side. Wheee, doggies! That was a birthday cake!

One Christmas, I really wanted a new bike. (I got one.) Another Christmas, I wanted a pool table. (Got it.)

It took some years and a bit of maturing to realize that Christmas wasn’t always easy, economically, for my parents. This may not sound quite right, but I think it’s a good thing for children to understand that money certainly doesn’t grow on trees. Yet, sadly, way too many children are learning as much this year.

As I’ve grown older, each Christmas I think about a quote that I first heard in my early 20s. “The saddest face at Christmas is not that of the child who didn’t get what he or she wanted, it is on the face of the parent who couldn’t afford it.”

Aside from the gifts, in fact more important than the gifts, my Christmas memories are of family. Parents, sisters, friends and other family members have all contributed to my own favorite Christmas memories. Like HCP columnist Rick Houser, I remember many of our Christmas trees, too. Rarely, if ever, did we opt for a plastic tree. No, we went for the real thing.

Many times my dad and I selected a tree that qualified for the “your eyes are bigger than your stomach” award. (A good rule to follow: If you have a 10-foot ceiling, you do not need a 12-foot tree.) And then there was the Christmas around 1980 or ’81, when Larry Taylor and I went “shopping” for a tree at 3 o’clock in the morning. We found one. Eventually. We stuffed it into the small trunk of Larry’s Chevy Camaro and brought it back to town.

A few years later, my Christmas memories became less of my childhood and more of my children’s experiences. Our oldest, Caitlin, born in January, was almost a year old at her first Christmas.

By the time she marked her second Christmas, she had a baby sister, Meghan. Not too many Christmases later, they both had a baby brother, Colin, born the day after Christmas in 1994. (That will always be a special Christmas for more reasons than I can share. Suffice it to say that Colin’s entrance into this world was another Christmas miracle.)

We’ve managed to carry on our family Christmas traditions quite well, I think. All of our children will forever remember the Christmas of 2004. That was the year of the Ice Storm. The kids still call it the 12 Days of Christmas because of all the different places they stayed for almost two weeks, while waiting for our electricity to be reconnected.

Most Christmases my occupation has required that I work. My wife, who has a real job as an RN, also works most Christmases usually at Highland District Hospital, and in years past, at Hospice of Hope. Juggling our respective schedules isn’t always easy. But we’ve always managed to share the opening of presents, the exchanging of gifts and the warmth of a few happy, young faces.

“For it is good to be children sometimes and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child Himself,” from Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” Aside from the obvious reason – and the important reason – for the celebration, if there’s one thing that I hope our children will always remember about Christmas, it’s this: You better thank your mother.

I’m sure they already know this, but I’m not exactly the person you want to pick out “that special gift.” In fact, I’m not even the person you want to pick out a not-so-special gift. My acumen for such tasks is about as good as my knowledge of Chinese calculus. It’s not that I’m Ebenezer Scrooge’s grandson or anything. I just can’t make a decent decision on an appropriate gift. Fortunately, their mother is not so afflicted.

With our children now young adults, Christmas isn’t quite the same as when we had three youngsters under the age of 6. But that’s OK. We’ll enjoy time with family. And we will be truly thankful, thankful for our Saviour’s birth, and thankful for our blessings.

Isn’t that what Christmas is all about?

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Rory Ryan is publisher and owner of The Highland County Press, Highland County’s only locally owned and operated newspaper.