I was only 5 months old at my first Christmas, so I don't remember anything about it, but I still have a few of the ornaments that were on that tree. These treasured decorations have been tenderly cared for throughout the years. Periodically they are brought out and placed on a small tree with other old Christmas decorations.

Others have been retired over the years, like the old string of lights whose cord became dry and cracked and thus unsafe to use.

Then there are the ones that have broken after years of packing and repacking and moving. Four of those little fragile ornaments, however, are alive and well.

The delicate strings of glass beads have become shorter over the years as the beads break off, but they are still lovingly placed among the fragrant green needles to once again shine proudly.

Listening to some of today's children as they rattle off their Christmas wish lists just gives me the chills. They must think their parents are made of money and that everything they see on television is supposed to be theirs. When did gift giving at Christmas become a contest to see who gets the most?

I clearly recall being able to ask for one gift at Christmas time. You had to decide what it was that you couldn't live without and that's what you asked for. Whether it was a Red Ryder BB Gun, a sled, a pair of skates, a wagon, a special doll or some other treasured gift, you only got to ask for one and then you may or may not get it.

I have no idea if everyone in the family chipped in or what sacrifices were made to purchase it, but you almost always got it from Santa.

Your other gifts were usually clothes for school and sometimes some candy or a small toy like a spinning top or checkerboard.

During the war years, when most of us were kids, money was really tight, and a lot of children just got that one big gift. I remember that getting more gifts than you could ever use was something not even thought of.

One thing for sure, is that the sound of a happy child laughing is something that makes you get all warm inside. There is nothing better than a room full of love, laughter and joy while opening Christmas presents.

Not much can equal the satisfying feeling you get from giving a gift to someone that is less fortunate than you.

Many churches have gift wishes from those who can't get the stuff on their own and you can pick up one of those papers and make a stranger very happy. It could be just a turtleneck sweater or a bathrobe that the person needs -- nothing that will really put a big crimp in your budget, but it sure will do your heart some good.

Anyone can be Santa and you don't have to wear a red suit to do it. I hope that all of you get to experience special feeling of giving to someone that really needs it this year. It's easy to donate a bag full of groceries for a needy family. Even if it's just to put out some fresh bird seed in your yard for our feathered friends that are having a harder time finding food now. Enjoy your day -- I know I will.

A native of Minnesota, Carol Olson grew up in South Dakota and Walnut Creek and now lives in Pittsburg. She can be reached at carolleeolson@aol.com.