"Mom, you forgot something!" Our youngest son, age 12, was yelling excitedly from another room Christmas-Day evening.
I'd just put up my feet for the first time in hours. I'd been in the kitchen much of the day preparing the Italian-sausage egg bake, and later, a glazed ham and trimmings, trying to make our first Christmas at home special. What could I possibly have left undone?
"You forgot Jesus!" he announced upon reaching me.
Ah, yes! The infant Jesus from our Nativity scene, which we'd temporarily hidden, leaving the manger-bed empty until Dec. 25.
In my scramble to create a meaningful environment, I'd forgotten to welcome our most important guest. Unsurprisingly, it took a child to remember. What a perfect way to complete the day.
Despite my omission, my husband's recent open-heart surgery had made me even more appreciative of Christmas this year, prompting me to ponder what life would be like without it.
Sadly, many are losing a sense of receptive wonder, even questioning whether Jesus existed. Though I understand varying experiences and perspectives, from the Christ-believer's, denying Emmanuel, "God with us," is akin to denying hope.
Skeptics offer countless reasons to reject Jesus' birth, life, death and resurrection. For them, no historical account or lived truth can satisfy. But for me and others, a fitting answer comes in the peripheries.
I recall the editorial response written in 1897 in The Sun newspaper to young Virginia O'Hanlon, 8, who'd asked whether Santa Claus is real. In words still applicable, the editor wrote, "Alas! How dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS."
He continued, "There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished."
And if there's a Santa, certainly, there's a Jesus, who inspired Santa's generous heart.
My son's childlike approach reminded me of the best gift under the tree - salvation.
How different the world would be without the mesmerizing Christmas lights, the sunlit snow, the golden ribbons and red tinsel, the cheerful gatherings with family, and yes, the glory of God breaking into our dim world with a much-needed ray of hope.
Recently, these words to "O Holy Night" struck me anew: "Long lay the world, in sin and error pining, till he appeared, and the soul felt its worth." I want to carry them close, remembering to always welcome Jesus.
As my son so innocently reminded me, our spirits yearn for this babe, and are incomplete without him. As we contemplate our soul's worth in Jesus' eyes, may we share that with others.
Salonen is a freelance writer who lives in Fargo with her husband and five children. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org