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This used to be such a happy time of year.

I remember staying up late on Christmas eve playing cards with my brothers. We would all sit on the floor of my bedroom (my room was the largest)and fight to stay awake as long as we could. For us, Christmas could never come early enough. As dawn crawled out from the safe bed of mountains that surrounds our hometown, we would look at each other with foolish grins and place bets on whether or not the presents we had asked for were under the tree. And even though we knew Santa Claus wasn't real, we believed.

Now that I'm 25 years old, Christmas is a concept that I understand about as much as I understand quantum physics (for the record, I have a BA in English). I still love very much to share gifts with the people I care about and spend time with my family. Of course, my family is not quite what it used to be. This year we will be scattered all over the place for the first time. One brother will be in San Francisco, the other in St Louis. My mother in Los Angeles, my father in San Diego. I will be in Los Angeles too, but it just won't be the same.

When I was a child, I used to think Christmas was about presents. As I grew older, presents meant less to me and family meant more. Now I am being presented with a Christmas that has about as much meaning for me as a Pauly Shore movie. The moment my definition of what this time of year means becomes solid, fate swallows up all that Christmas is and spits an empty plate back at me. I'm getting frustrated with myself because I no longer have an image of what Christmas should be.

He sat by his window, examining the frost that had appeared around the edges of the glass during the night. Tiny crystals of ice had collaborated in his sleep to create a vision of winter that warned against going outside and into the chilly air of a Christmas morning. He quietly opened his bedroom door and crept along the second floor landing until he could see the soft glow of the Christmas tree lights dance upon the living room windows below.

The smell of coffee and egg nog floated toward him as he hesitated at the top of the steps. He looked at the casio watch on his wrist. The face showed 6:30AM, and his parents had given him strict orders not to wake them up until seven. The boy quietly retreated to his bedroom and shut the door.

"Did you see anything?" The boy's younger brother poked his head out from beneath the covers of the bed.

"No," replied the boy. "And we still have half an hour. I think I'm going to go crazy." He sat on the floor and began to deal himself another game of solitaire. A knock on the door caused them both to jump.

"It's me. Let me in," said a voice.

The boy got up and opened his door for the oldest boy. "We can wake them in thirty minutes," he whispered.

The oldest boy sat down and picked up the cards. "how many games of Go Fish is that? Three?"

The boy shrugged. "The game will take longer if we can get him to join us." He pointed at the small lump in his bed.

The oldest crawled on top of the bed and began to tickle their brother mercilessly until he came out, gasping and giggling. "Shutup!" the boy hissed. "You'll wake mom and dad!" The three of them sat on the floor, each with a blanket wrapped around their shoulders. The cards were suddenly forgotten while they whispered about which Transformers would be under the tree. A knock at the boy's door brought them all to a sudden silence.

"I know you're all in there," came the voice of their mother, "so you might as well get up and go downstairs. Congratulations on waking your father up early AGAIN."

The boy looked at his brothers, and their eyes all began to twinkle. At once, they grabbed their slippers and robes from the floor and fought their way out of the room and down the stairs. Christmas had come.

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