When I sit down to write this column, I never know what will develop. So I like letting my mind wander and hope it will end up with something worthwhile for my readers. I don't know how many times this year I've started to write a Christmas column and nothing comes out. I wonder if it's because I've lived through so many Christmas times.

I grew up in a large family in the Midwest. I recall times when the only gift we got was the one we received at a church party. There were some lean times in our house. But there was always the family love, and we understood the true meaning of Christmas.

I recall one of those long ago Christmas gifts was a box that came from grandparents in California, who sent us those oranges and shelled almonds. In the Midwest, when I was a child, such treats were scarce. There were times when our tree had real candles, but we couldn't light them because of the danger of fire. We strung popcorn on strings to grace our tree, and some homemade ornaments adorned our little evergreen symbol.

Today, as I look at the calendar and see that red 25 number is almost here, I can't believe Christmas is almost here. The Christmas tree farm up the road from me is a busy place. People tag the tree they want. At home, out come the boxes of ornaments, tinsel, silvery streamers and family keepsake ornaments.

I haven't had a tree for several years now, but I enjoy the beauty of the big one at my son's home. I'm looking forward to a visit from my California son and his wife. They like to come to see the snow, walk in it, make a few snowballs, and even shovel a little bit of the sidewalk and driveway. I'm happy to let them do that. It's a task I can't manage anymore.

I look forward to our family gatherings. We'll open gifts in stockings hung by the fireplace. We will enjoy the great Christmas stollen prepared by our neighbor. I will be enjoying the coffee I've been denied for so many years. All of us will have notepads to list the gifts, and there will be bags to keep the wrappings and ribbons from the gift exchange. We will enjoy family dinners, and visits from neighbors.

This year our family has decided to be more selective with our gift giving. We enjoy giving gifts, but as we age, Christmas becomes more a gathering of family and friends. This year is very special to me, for my granddaughter and her husband have brought news that she expects to have a baby girl in the Spring. It will be my first great-grandchild.

It's sad to contemplate, but there will be homes this year where Christmas will be bleak and sad because of unemployment. But keep in mind that it isn't all about gift giving. There may be no tree in some homes, but the lights outside our homes and shining through our windows may help bring Christmas cheer to all. I hope this Christmas can be special for every family. A family-oriented Merry Christmas to you all.

Harriette Leidich is a Banner columnist.