At the great age of 91, I look forward, as Christmas approaches, to being with my children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. It is their time, because Christmas belongs to the young. The little ones will open their gifts and with rapt faces, try out new toys, many unfamiliar to me in this modern world.
Then days of my own youth return vividly to me, shared with loved ones now gone. I remember shopping with my mother, never until after Thanksgiving, when department stores displayed toys in Christmas-decorated windows. Men dressed as Santa Claus stood on busy street corners ringing bells, inviting us to drop coins in a bowl for those less fortunate than ourselves. I remember the smell of roasting chestnuts near Lexington Market and the pleasant faces. This was Baltimore in 1913.
I remember wrapping our gifts in red and white tissue paper. I often bought a tie at Hutzler's or O'Neil's for $1.50 or two monogrammed handkerchiefs for 50 cents each. I remember going with Mother to deliver baskets of food and toys for families in need. I remember the fun of helping to trim our tree and the excitement of opening our stockings Christmas morning and finding a tangerine in the toe.
Our grandparents always came Recollections for Christmas dinner, and my father sharpened the silver carving knife before he cut into the 20-pound turkey. I remember grandfather telling a story of Christmas at his parents' farm in Virginia just after the Civil War. They had cut down a tree in the woods and decorated it with strings of popcorn and tiny candles that the Yankees hadn't found, making merry with what they had.
On a much later Christmas Eve, in 1928, my husband put together for our son a toy train which went around the big decorated tree. At midnight we turned on the radio to hear the great opera star Madame Shumanheink sing ''Silent Night.''
After Pearl Harbor, I well remember the four bleak Christmases of the Second World War. There was scant supply of toys to buy, and we used the same tinsel on our tree each year. We saved food stamps for Christmas dinner. One Christmas we had a black-out.
Many years have passed. I am old. Going to my children's and grandchildren's homes, the old traditions still prevail. The biblical story of the wise men who followed the star to the manger where the little Jesus lay, and, kneeling, gave their gifts, continues through us today, from generation to generation.
Frances K. Sill writes from Towson.