Be real quiet for a moment.
Do you hear it?
The faint sound of sleigh bells and reindeer hooves way off in the distance.
Now, squint real hard.
Do you see it?
Snow falling softly on the woolen caps and scarves of carolers on Christmas Eve as they sing "O Holy Night" just outside your front door.
Then take a deep breath.
Do you smell it?
The fragrance of pine and balsam and still-warm Christmas cookies spilling into every corner of the house.
Now, keep all that in mind as you lean back, close your eyes and let the Ghosts of Christmas Past enter your spirit.
That's what we asked several Baltimoreans to do: Remember a Christmas Past and tell us about it. Some remembered their best Christmas Past; others, their worst.
But best or worst, it might be wise to keep this in mind: Even if you live to the ripe old age of 100, you're only going to experience Christmas 100 times in your entire life!
Not very much when you compare it to number of trips you've made to the supermarket, or number of days you've spent at the workplace, or number of evenings you've wasted watching bad television.
So. A word to the wise: Make the most of this Christmas. And all those yet to come.
Who knows? Next year we might call you and ask for a Christmas memory.
Susan Badder, executive director, Maryland Art Place, remembers the 1963 Christmas she spent in Rome as one of her best:
"I was single and working in Florence that year. On Christmas Eve, I went to Rome with three American friends. The next day -- Christmas Day -- turned out to be very balmy, and we went to the Rome zoo. It was so warm they had let out some baby lion cubs, and they let us hold them. I remember we had our pictures taken holding these baby lion cubs.
"I think I remember that Christmas in Rome so fondly because it was one of those holidays that didn't have all the usual anxiety crunch that comes with having to do piles of shopping and getting the whole family together. It was very self-centered in a way because it was just doing what we wanted to do. I don't think it dawned on me then that here I was -- in the center of Catholicism with the Pope holding masses everywhere -- here I was at the zoo holding baby lions. But I often think it was a wonderful way of approaching the end of one year and the beginning of another."
Bea Gaddy, executive director of the Patterson Park Emergency Center, grew up poor in rural North Carolina when times were particularly hard. But hard times taught her the true meaning of Christmas.
"For the worst Christmas I ever had, I would have to go back to when I was 5 years old. That Christmas morning I woke up and there was nothing. Nothing at all. There was no tree, no presents, not even any food. That was back in North Carolina in the year of 1938.
"But everything's so different now. Every Christmas I've experienced in Baltimore since then has had a huge meaning for me. It doesn't matter if I'm able or not able to give presents or to get them, I've learned the true meaning of Christmas. I've learned that giving a gift is not everything. That loving your fellow man is.
"But it's hard to explain that to a 5-year-old. To explain why there are no toys, no laughter, no carols, no nothing. I don't want to see any child go through that."
Brian A. Rutledge, director, Baltimore Zoo, recalls the quiet and pristine "whiteness" of a Christmas spent far from the madding crowd on the family cattle farm:
"My fondest memories of Christmas go back to living in the upper peninsula of Michigan where you experience Christmas at its whitest. Sometimes there'd be as much as 280 inches of snow on the ground. We didn't go anywhere. There was nowhere to go. You had to break snowdrifts in the morning just to get to the driveway. And we lived six miles away from the nearest store. If we did go out, we'd move around on snowshoes or by dog sled.
"It sounds shut-in, but it didn't feel that way. It's just a very quiet memory of Christmas and pleasure in the outdoors and very few people around. We didn't have much money for Christmas presents, but people made things for each other. And we had all the usual Christmas observances going on, with one exception: during the day you'd stop to take care of the livestock."
Constantine Grimaldis, owner of the C. Grimaldis Gallery, grew up in Athens, Greece, and remembers that the end of innocence about certain aspects of Christmas occurred when he was 7 years old.
"Christmas was a family holiday, and we always gathered in the house of the eldest -- and the eldest was my grandfather. For years my grandparents took great care to play tricks that made me swear that Santa Claus was actually there. I never saw him, but I knew he was there. But when I was about 7, I became suspicious that Santa Claus did not exist.