I step into the living room, coming to turn off the lights. It's late Christmas eve, and someone had forgotten to flip the switch on their way to bed. I look to the clock- it's actually early Christmas morning. As I turn off the lamp, the only illumination left in the room is the gentle glow coming from the lights on the tree. I pause, enchanted by the magical effect the lights have on the reflecting ribbons of the wrapped gifts I had spent a long time arranging earlier, and realize that this is the prettiest moment of Christmas. Tomorrow in the frenzy of wrapping paper, the excited cries of my little brothers, the warm smiles of older relatives, and the excitement that Christmas morning brings, this serenity seems the proverbial calm before the storm. I sit on the couch and watch the tree, thinking about the wonder of Christmas.

My sister comes down the hall on her way to the bathroom, not seeing me. A few moments later she passes by on her return trip, and glances at me, halting for a minute. "Hey," she says, looking curiously at me. "Hey." I reply. She waits as if expecting an explanation for my late night vigil, but I offer none, so she quickly walks on. I briefly wonder if she thinks I'm waiting for Santa Claus. I smile at the absurdity of that thought. I remember the time we camped out in the living room, wanting to be the first to open presents when we woke up. We secretly hoped to get a glance of the gifts my mother would finish putting under the tree and in the stockings.

I smile again at the memory, and resume staring at the tree. My wandering mind remembers when we picked it out. After church one moring, we noticed the trees in the parking lot that they had been selling for several weeks. Since we had still not gotten a tree, we decided to go look around. The sign read "Christmas Trees- $20 and up -Profits go to Missions." We glanced around, and after a little while, I found the tree I thought was best. My dad went to get the truck and pull it up closer where we could load the tree up easier. My little brothers went with him. As I stood with the tree, a woman walked up to the couple that was selling the trees. The woman seemed rather edgy, her clothes a little shabby, and her eyes had a weary look to them. I suddenly pictured her a single mother of two, trying to make ends meet, smoking the occasional cigarette to calm her stressed nerves. She approached the salesman. "Do you have any twenty dollar trees?" she asked in a raspy voice with the slightest hint of a southern drawl. "I've only got twenty dollars." Her eyes pleaded with the man to say he had one. "That one over there is the best I have right now." He pointed to a rather small tree with thin branches that were smushed up on one side. She looked at the tree, and tried to straighten the smushed branches. "Well, I guess this one'll have to do." She said optimistically. The wife of the salesman looked at her with a little bit of pity. She brightly asked the woman if she'd like to cut off some of the bottom branches to make it easier to put in a stand. As they discussed it, I noticed I wasn't the only eavesdropper. A young man who had just bought a tree with his son climbed down from the roof of the van where he had been tying the tree up. The slaes woman left to get something, and the young man approached the woman looking for a tree. "Are we operating on a low budget here?" He asked. Without waiting for an answer, he pulled out a twenty dollar bill. "Here. With forty dollars, you can pick out a real nice tree." He placed it in her hand and walked away, offering a "Merry Christmas," as he left. The woman just stood there in shock. "Oh my God." She quietly exclaimed. "I can't believe he just did that." The sales lady returned, and she turned to her. "That man just gave me twenty dollars!" The sales woman just smiled. "That's what we Christians do. We like to help people out." With that, she took the woman who had tears brimming her eyes and they walked off to look at the other trees. My father dove up in the truck, and as he loaded the tree in, my little brothers begged to sit in the back with it. As we left, I prayed a silent blessing over the woman and the generous man who reminded me just how beautiful the Christmas spirit is.

My mind returns to the present, and I glance at the clock. It's late. I stretch and head towards my room. I glance at the tree one more time, and whisper a prayer of thanks. I turn back to my room, where sleep, dreams, and a busy morning awaits me.