'Christmas, children, is not a date. It is a state of mind.' - Mary Ellen Chase

In my house, Christmas is a bit more. We have our traditions that are a staple in the house once Thanksgiving has passed. The Saturday after Thanksgiving is designated as the day to set up lights and get a Christmas tree. Of course, if it doesn't rain Saturday, we have to do something else because there is no way we can set up for Christmas in fair weather. So in the rain we trudge up to Sleighbells in Sherwood to pick out that special tree.

The rolling hill of Douglas Firs, Noble Firs, and White Pines are overwhelming to the untrained eye of my mother. My father, brother and I pick out the best tree within five minutes of entering the forest, but there is no way we could find the best tree that quickly according to my mother. We continue searching, finding tall and majestic trees, but all somehow are flawed in my mother's eyes. An hour after we found that first tree, we make our way back to the first one and now since we have eliminated every other possible tree, it must be in fact the best tree.

Then comes the dull saw and the muddy ground. My father squats under, not touching a knee to the ground in fear of muddying his jeans. Yes, we have a washing machine that works perfectly well but how could he stand to dirty his jeans? Finally, the tree is felled and we victoriously parade our perfect tree down to be baled. We retreat from the rain into the warm lodge to attain our mugs of hot chocolate.

We arrive home with our wet, baled tree and see our few strands of lights strewn up into the trees. We enter the house to the never-ending Christmas music coming from the stereo. Nat King Cole's Christmas album is a must have for the Christmas season and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra is heard often throughout the house.

That night, we all have our individual jobs: my mother and I begin setting up our assortment of Christmas candles, wreaths, nativity sets and stockings; my brother sets up his department 56 Christmas collection and our Christmas train; my father begins baking our seasonal supply of Chex mix.

We come together to slowly put our many ornaments on the tree. Different ornaments have different prescribed places on the tree. Sequin nutcrackers and drums go at the base of the tree because they won't break when the Christmas train runs into them. All ornaments with family pictures go behind the tree where nobody can see them. The noise making ornaments as well as the fat Santa ornaments go in front for all to see.

It never changes much year to year, which adds a certain amount of reverence. The night finishes with a holiday must, the Grinch - who through trials of being picked on because he was mean and green, came to understand the true meaning of Christmas because of a sweet little Cindy Lou-Who.

The day before Christmas it all comes together. We head down to Salem, to stay with our grandparents. We head to a neighbors' house which is decked with pink flamingos, stuffed reindeer, always 32 Christmas trees, and more lil' smokies than Joey Chestnut could eat in a night. We leave from there to go to the greatest Christmas tradition of all, church.

A certain reverence is acknowledged for the sovereignty of Christmas by Christians and non-Christians alike. The pastor goes through a typical Christmas Eve sermon, telling the incredible story of a virgin girl, destined to bring Christ into the world amid all kinds of hindrances and obstacles. By following a moving star, three Wise Men come from afar to give honor to the coming King.

But this boy they saw was not the kind of King they expected but a completely different one altogether. The sermon closes with one last Christmas song, and typically everyone is uplifted by the story and song.

As we walk into the night, the feelings that we have are not invoked by it being the 24th of December, but rather by our state of mind.

Austin Layton is a junior at Westside Christian High School. He writes a column every month for the Lake Oswego Review. Contact him via e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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