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Simplifying Christmas

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Posted 12-05-2010 at 11:25 PM by Jeff Westover
Updated 12-05-2010 at 11:27 PM by Jeff Westover

We had an opportunity tonight to go as a family for a Christmas devotional in Salt Lake City. This annual event is held in the LDS Conference Center, a facility that holds some 21,000 people. Like all Christmas events downtown it is free but you have to have a ticket to get in. We lucked into some tickets at the last minute so we rushed down there to take part in it.

When we got there we discovered we had seven people but only six tickets, so I had my wife head on out with the kids as I fought traffic to get to one of the parking facilities. It was very late, almost for time for the event to begin and I was simply stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic. By the time I found a spot and began my walk, it was 25-minutes into the event and I didn't want to disrupt things by trying to find my family amongst all those people.

So headed on foot to wait outside across the street at Temple Square.

For those not from this area or even familiar with Salt Lake City it is best to describe Temple Square as the very heart of Salt Lake. When Brigham Young and the pioneers first came to this valley in 1847 Brigham stuck his cane in the dirt and declared "This is where we will build a Temple to our God" and the city was literally built around that spot in the dirt.

The square is roughly ten acres, I believe, and it houses many buildings these days but the centerpiece has always been the very recognizable Salt Lake Temple. At Christmas time the entire square is filled with Christmas lights, several Nativity scenes depicting faces of many cultures and all manner of Christmas art collected from around the world. It is a wildly popular Christmas venue not only because it is free but mostly because it is a wonderful thing to see.

For the ten years we've lived in Utah we go down there at least once a year, despite the crowds and on a night like tonight, with a meeting taking place in the Conference Center with 21,000 people, the place was crowded like you wouldn't believe.

As I was walking to Temple Square from the four blocks away I had to park I was immediately stuck by the silence and the atmosphere created by the December fog. This is a rare thing in the mountain altitude of Salt Lake City.

But when I was a kid fog was the very definition of Christmas. We lived in the San Joaquin city of Lodi when I was growing up, basically at sea level, where fog ruled the winter months.

As a kid I had a job that kids today know nothing about -- a paper route. I did it for three years starting at about age ten. And there was nothing I loved more than an early morning run through my route in the fog. I rode my bike without hands the whole way and had the timing and routine down perfectly. I could throw it with my eyes closed and sometimes I did. That gave me a lot of confidence on those mornings with the thick fog where you couldn't see five feet in front of you and I recall vividly and fondly being in the middle of the street and counting the rotation of my pedals and throwing a perfectly sized paper through that fog and hearing just the right sound that confirmed it was perfectly placed. Oh, how I loved that command.

The walk from the car to Temple Square reminded me of those simpler times and it made me reflect a great deal on the difference in Christmas that my kids experience than what I did.

Not only did I have to throw papers as a kid but I had to collect the money too and nothing was sweeter than doing collections in December because that was when folks tipped you. Oh, you got tips every month but December was incredible. I had a man on my route who relied on me to whistle for him by 5:10 every morning and I timed my whole route around his needs. If my papers got to me late, I'd ride out to his house just to whistle, if I had to. I didn't want to let him down, because he never let me down. Come Christmastime he'd tipped me $100 every year -- that was big money to a kid back in the 70s.

Our Christmases growing up were huge events but looking back now there wasn't much spectacular about it. We loved to go look at Christmas lights but we had nothing in our town like Temple Square. I've got children who were so young when we moved here they think every town has a place like Temple Square to go to.

Even events like tonight, where they get to sit literally at the feet of a prophet and hear a message of Christmas hope and love with world class music in a simple celebration of the season is something I know they think every kids gets to experience. Last year when we attended, as we usually do, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir Christmas concert with Natalie Cole we got a chance to meet her. I know that's no big deal to some and may be it isn't a big deal to my kids but we had nothing like that when I was a kid. I wonder and I worry if they know the magical time and place where we live.

As I spent the time alone, walking around Temple Square with 20,000 of my closest friends who were there as well to admire the lights, I had the best time just being there alone with my camera. I am an old photo-guy, who at one time made my living in that industry, who has taught photography for years and literally had chemicals running through my veins as I would develop my own film and fuss over every picture I would take. It has been years since I had done any recreational shooting and tonight with fog and Christmas lights around me on Temple Square I was happily in my element. (I posted some new images to my albums online here tonight).

It was a bit of a magical evening for me, one filled with pondering and remembrance. This is the first Christmas season in more than a decade where I haven't been traveling extensively at this time of the year. I vowed months ago when I lost my job I would be enjoying this season and tonight was a reminder of that.

I believe there is never time to do all you want at Christmas. You just can't do it all. But for pete's sake you've got to savor what you can do. Tonight was a long delicious drink of Christmas and I hope to take many mroe in the days and weeks ahead.

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