One of my favorite "editor's notebooks" I wrote during my 24-year tenure at Fairfield Citizen was a recollection about the family's festivities and traditions for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. My grandparents, my aunt and my father all have since passed. Now, my gift giving is focused on my four great-nephews, ages 22 months to 8 years old, for whom Christmas remains magical.

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Christmas Eve was always magical when I was a child.

My parents, older sister and brother and I spent Christmas Eve and Day with Poppy and Grandma Hines and my Aunt Dorothy. The daylong wait for Christmas Eve festivities was excruciating. The thought of piles of presents was too much pressure for a young child to bear. As I grew older, the anticipation of seeing the faces of my gift recipients was just as exciting, especially after I had spent hours, even days, looking for the right item.

We arrived at the house on Flax Hill Road in South Norwalk in the early evening with boxes and armfuls of carefully wrapped presents. The first thrill of the evening was when I was chosen to help Aunt D distribute each gift. The piles in front of each person soon grew large. My grandparents and aunt were always generous, giving each of us more than three or four presents. Always attached to one of the presents was an envelope containing a check or a savings bond, which we jokingly referred to as "The Big One." Inside the card was a note in my grandmother's scrawl that read simply, "Go pick what you like."

My grandfather, a man of few words, usually was the last to open his presents, though he always seemed to enjoy his grandchildren's excitement as we unwrapped each box. When it was his turn, he only partially pulled the wrapping off the presents. He was difficult to buy for, which he probably knew. Cartons of cigarettes, socks, candy and Zane Grey novels were the fare.

As if waiting for Christmas Eve wasn't difficult enough, I still had to endure a sleepless night to see what was left under the tree and in the stockings on Christmas Day by the elusive man in the red suit.

One Christmas morning, I awoke very early, ran down the stairs to the living room, opened all my presents by myself (I was overcome with joy, I remember, when I got a Tammy doll), and then had to wait hours before anyone else joined me.

Years later, when the grandchildren were all older, working and with kids or homes of our own, the family abandoned gift giving. I protested the most. But now I relish not having to battle the traffic, the prices, the pressure and the other customers (who, despite the joyous season, often take on an ugly demeanor). Our family gatherings ultimately were more intimate and meaningful.

No matter how you celebrate the holidays or with whom, make it special.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Patricia A. Hines can be reached at hinessight@hotmail.com. She also can be followed at http://blog.ctnews.com/hines