Christmas Eve is a magic time. I'll prove it to you in a moment.
Try my formula for bringing back memories, sometime between 11 and midnight tonight when quiet finally has settled on the home. Turn off the television set. Turn off all the floor lamps and the table lamps in the room. But make certain the colored lights still are glowing on the Christmas tree, reflecting on the picture window if possible.
Then relax in your favorite chair in the quiet darkness and look toward the picture window. Allow your mind to rove back through all the Christmas times of the past, a near-endless list if you're in my age bracket.
Watch the shimmering, soft glow of those colored lights on the picture window with the snow covered lawn for a background. And then call back the Christmas of long ago.
It's easy. For example, I could not for the life of me remember where I was or what I was doing on Dec. 25, 1925, for I was 5 that Christmas and I found under the tree a beautiful red and gold sled named "Ice King Racer."
Christmas is the one memorable time in every year that helps us turn back the clock with perfect accuracy to any year we choose. We can conjure up memories of our very earliest childhood. We can call back recollections of our parents, when they were youthful, spry and happy - in their prime. We can remember a particular pet, a dog, for instance which was the epitome of faithfulness all through boyhood years.
We can picture vividly favorite aunts and uncles in those confident days of the 1920s when everyone was prosperous, hard-working, full of great plans, going places.
We can recall scenes of an old-fashioned Christmas, the kind we see today only in magazine illustrations and holiday cards aimed at the nostalgia market. We can picture once again the warm, yellow glow of lamp light through heavy lace curtains; the flickering flames in the wood burning fireplace, the country lane buried deep in snow, marred only by the tracks of a sleigh or occasional spring wagon.
The magic brings forth once more, with perfect clarity, the scene around the piano in the living room where Mother played and sang all the familiar Christmas carols, while Father and two youngsters joined in, only slightly behind the sounds of the piano.
It enables us to see once more across a vast vista of snow-covered pastures and fields to the one-room frame country school building perched on a hilltop fully a mile away, a scene that artists duplicate today as a way of evoking the atmosphere of an old-fashioned Christmas.
Moonlight glistens from the drifted snow, which takes on a sheen of diamonds. Bare tree branches cast stark, dark shadows on the white landscape. And in the distance we hear the jangle of sleigh bells and the muted sound of horses' hooves as a neighbor makes his way homeward.
Now another milestone: Think backward over the years to the grim atmosphere of an Army barracks somewhere in the southern United States on a Christmas Eve during World War II when you were a recruit, too new to the uniform to rate a holiday furlough. Remember the bleak and cheerless atmosphere as you whiled away the dead hours with another hundred or so men, thousands of miles from home, who faced the prospect of fighting in Europe, Africa or the Pacific and then remaining in uniform "for the duration and six months," as the military phrased it.
Remember, and I am sure you will, the forced gaiety in the messhall at noon as the men consumed a Christmas dinner that appeared to be an epicurean feast according to the menu published in the hometown paper - but actually was the usual tired, tasteless, unattractive chow that the cooks turned out on the other 364 days of the year.
And you can remember, for you have heard about it often enough, the empty loneliness of the wives and mothers who spent Christmas not knowing where their sons and husbands were, except for a vague APO address that gave not a single clue.
Remember the first Christmas at home after the war, when you discovered that little brothers and sisters suddenly had grown up, aunts and uncles had aged peculiarly, and all the civilian clothing felt uncomfortably loose after the constriction of an Army blouse.
Remember that there was more white in Mother's hair and that Father was becoming more portly and more bald. But remember that Mother still played the familiar carols on the piano while the other members of the family sang.
And store up, too, the memories of this most recent of Christmas Eves.
For Mother and Father are gone now, and the ancient parlor piano has vanished forever, its chords stilled for all time. You're the balding and portly one now, and the woman with the spreading white in her hair is your wife.
The bright-faced youngsters who stood by your side at the Christmas Eve candlelight service, singing the carols you remember perfectly from your youth are your grandchildren, bubbling with anticipation of the mystic wonder of the year's most cherished day. They're looking forward over a long span of all the Christmases that will take them well into the next century. You're looking backward over the span that began when this century was new.
Study the glimmering images in those lights reflected in your window. The glow you feel in your heart will come from Christmas past and Christmas present.
Aging eyes, the clear eyes of youth, all see the same warm and cherished images, unchanging across the years.