The greatest gift |

The greatest gift

Open Space
Derek Franz
Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO

Christmas used to be a magical time for me.

Perhaps the experience to which I measured all of my subsequent Christmases was when I was about 4 years old. Longmont, where we lived in those days, was covered in fresh snow that Christmas Eve. The sky was clear and I craned my neck, hoping to see Santa dashing through the stars as my snow boots squeaked through the fluffy stuff along the sidewalk.

My babysitter, Jennifer – the daughter of my mom’s best friend – held my hand as she guided me to the church where my parents were singing Handel’s “Messiah.”

Big boxes full of toys wrapped in fancy paper were on my mind. Our tradition was to open gifts Christmas Eve, so I couldn’t wait to get home and get down to the good stuff. I didn’t want to go to church. I didn’t care about whatever boring thing my parents were doing. I wanted it to be over with.

Now, I wish so badly to go back to that moment. The church was like nothing I’d ever seen before. Outside its great doors was only silent night and cold. I don’t remember what Santa put under the tree for me that year, but I remember walking inside that church very well.

Jennifer led me down an aisle of red carpet between rows of white pews under a cathedral ceiling. There was a brightness and warmth that struck the senses like a light switch. Candles were everywhere in the huge room, including the biggest ones I’d ever seen up by the pulpit.

As the concert progressed into the night, the figures in the tall, stained-glass windows above our heads seemed to come alive and move among us. And there were my parents, far away from me at the front of the church, dressed like I’d never seen them, in robes among the other enchanters.

The power they had! For hours, hundreds of finely dressed people gave them their full, solemn attention.

The sound of “Hallelujah” reverberating through the great saffron hall expelled us back into the night and I have remembered the feeling ever since.

Most years thereafter, I’ve been left with increasing disappointment on Christmas. Maybe it is due to a loss of innocence. Maybe it’s because the message of materialism prevails over that of love more often than it should for me. It’s probably both reasons.

What is strange to me this year is that I’ve found myself taken unexpectedly by what can only be called the Christmas spirit.

It’s strange because life has been particularly hard for me and others around me this year. Everything seems to go on the credit card lately, and the absence of those we’ve lost this year is felt like a cold hand under the sheets on a winter night. Yet I find myself fluttering with a sense of magic again, seemingly out of the blue.

For years, I’ve twisted my nose in repulsion at all the Christmas tunes that bombard me every day between Halloween and New Year’s, often in the form of advertisements. Now I find myself humming the old classics to myself while I clean the kitchen. Why? Where is this coming from?

In the midst of my economic and emotional struggles, I feel lucky. It’s as though I looked around myself and discovered that I’m in the middle of a grand party, surrounded by loved ones.

Quite a few of my family and friends are holding new babies this holiday as well. Perhaps my old innocence is also kindled by the newborns, because I look at the babies and see myself … and all the rest of us.

As a child, it was easier to believe that ideals were attainable; that a benevolent, all-powerful entity truly watched over us and we would all be OK. Even my parents seemed like protective gods. In retrospect, I feel fortunate to have ever believed such comforting thoughts at all.

Because that mysterious power of hope was instilled in me then, there is still something of a flickering candle left in me. I have hope.

Perhaps that is irrational, given the circumstances, but a world without hope is no world for me, much less a child. So I want to give these babies reasons to hope for a bright future – for our hope lies in them, the potential saviors.

There is magic and power in each person that is greater than the individual. It works through our hearts and allows us to become greater than ourselves. Its reach encompasses all, regardless of religion or how a person thinks of it.

For me, Christmas is a fine excuse to contemplate from whence I came and the greatest gift beheld by mankind: love.

As long as love lives, there is something worth living for. Hallelujah.

– “Open Space” appears on the second and fourth Friday of the month. Derek Franz writes for the Eagle Valley Enterprise and lives in Glenwood Springs. He can be reached at

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