Christmas cheer that lasts the year

Growing up in Chicago, Christmas always meant snow on the ground (well, OK, sometimes snow on the ground), a terrible nip in the air, lights on every house, and a community ready to shovel your driveway or bake you cookies.

Christmas morning, my family would gather around the Christmas tree as my dad played Santa. It was always his job to hand out the presents. My parents were always very generous, and, although we never got everything we wanted, we were spoiled with love and a few special presents. While we were all very sleepy, Santa left a warm glow in his wake to start our day.

Christmas Day was always a busy one. We cooked, cleaned, wrapped, unwrapped and so much more. We had extended family over for dinner and we all sat around chatting and nursing our full bellies.

Most of my memories of Christmas growing up were good ones, mostly because I was part of a warm, loving family who took care of me and made sure that we had happy memories.

I am painfully aware, however, that there are thousands upon thousands out there who are not as lucky as I was. Their holiday memories are not warm ones, and seldom are they happy. Many of America's children don't know the glory of ripping the brightly colored wrapping paper off of their presents after it is joyfully torn from its home underneath a brightly lit tree.

Many more have no family to compensate the lack of material gifts. For whatever the cause, Christmas does not hold the same memories for everyone. This alone saddens me, because Christmastime is my favorite time of the year.

However, this is why I love Christmas so much. During the Christmas season, people of every race, religion, gender and occupation, open their hearts to the good will that flows through our world. People give others their joy and their memories by sharing Christmas. Multiple organizations exist during Christmas alone simply to bring those who are in need Christmas cheer through clothing, food and gifts.

This Christmas cheer, however, slowly rolls out as the New Year dawns. For some odd reason, all the spirit of giving and charity evaporate. Now, don't get me wrong, people are still charitable within their church, and there are those who volunteer much of their time and resources to those in need, or simply their fellow man.

I have always been surprised, and rather saddened, that the good will that people experience during Christmas can't seem to be carried out during the rest of the year. I will admit that I am an eternal optimist. I see the possibility of good in the world. I see what people are capable of during times disaster and times of sadness. I see what people do during Christmas time (even if they don't happen to participate in the holiday itself). I do believe that world peace is possible, someday.

Now, I don't believe that all of our differences will just disappear. But if everyone makes the effort to see past all of our differences, the world would be a much better place.

These are the ideas that I think should be carried on through the year. The Christmas spirit shouldn't just be relegated to December; it is a feeling that can last us 12 months.

It's a great idea to deliver the holiday spirit to those in need during the holidays, to give them the memories people like me had as children. However, I think it is an even greater idea to continue those ideas throughout the year. People need to understand, I think, that people don't stop being cold, being down on their luck, being homeless or simply having problems because December ended. It plagues them for months, years. Many time, all that stands between us and the gutter is a helping hand.

So my message this Christmas is to remember those in need as you open your gifts. Enjoy your family, enjoy the holiday. Take a little bit of that Christmas spirit and share it with someone who normally wouldn't have it.

But as Jan. 1 comes around, don't forget the good feeling the holidays brought you. Take that cheer and spread it around all year long. Make an effort to see this world of ours become a better place to live in. And teach your children that there are reasons to give of yourself, of your time and energy, no matter what the season.