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Merry Christmas to all - Martha Carr

There is something about the Christmas season that makes everyone believe in the possibilities just a little bit more, and they carry that good cheer with them everywhere.

It doesn't matter what part of the country, the magic happens everywhere.

In New York City, my old friends will be making plans to go and see the Saks or Bergdorf Goodman windows and the tree at Rockefeller Center. I know what people, who don't live in New York, say about the city dwellers, but they're actually very helpful all the time, even if they don't stay around and chat once you have what you need. Amongst themselves, they're talking about the next big break in their careers, anyway.

At Christmas time, the city gets dressed up with a giant star over 5th Avenue at 57th near the underground Apple store. There are also tree vendors with temporary stalls along many of the sidewalks. I remember walking through the narrow paths between fir trees surrounded by the scent of pine. The food carts sell roasted chestnuts along with gyros and pretzels. People are gathering in the Plaza Hotel's lobby for hot chocolate, and along every street, there are more tourists than ever, stopped in the middle of sidewalks gazing upwards everywhere.

Back in Richmond, another old hometown for me, everyone has already decked out their houses till they can be seen from space. Richmond's love of Christmas decorations makes the HGTV cable special every year, and there's a "Tacky Christmas Tour" you can take with friends on a chartered bus, complete with cookies, that goes throughout the area. It starts after the Grand Illumination when the tall buildings all turn on the Christmas lights downtown in unison.

There's also a Christmas parade with marching bands, over-sized balloons, floats with local celebrities and big men in tiny cars wearing fez hats. Families can always find a place to stand and watch, even if they get there just as it starts.

Santa Claus, who used to appear down an actual chimney at the old Thalhimers building downtown, is hanging out at the Children's Museum this year, near the parade route, and kids can go and say, hello, and meet the Snow Queen. My son, Louie, used to ask people if we were at the North Pole.

Here in Chicago, there are plenty of midwestern traditions, including the windows at the old Marshall Field's store downtown, which newer transplants call Macy's, with the famous over-sized tree in the Oak Room.

There's also the 26th annual showing of "It's a Wonderful Life" and "White Christmas" at the old Music Box Theater.

People go every year and wear Santa hats of every description and bring sleigh bells to jingle whenever Clarence makes an appearance on screen. They also hiss when mean ol' Mr. Potter appears, and cheer for George Bailey, or sing along with Rosemary Clooney during White Christmas. Before the movies start, there's caroling with Santa Claus accompanied by an organ and the words displayed up on the screen. Even the singing sounded better.

Afterwards, we all walked down the snowy street toward the El looking at the large ice sculptures that went on for blocks. There was a puppy coming out of a Christmas box and a reindeer on a roof.

The CTA gets into the Christmas spirit as well with an annual Santa train where even the upholstery is changed to green and red and all of the cars are decorated with tinsel, lights and fake ads from the North Pole. In the center, is a flatbed with Santa sitting in his sleigh and a couple of CTA workers keeping Santa company. He has a microphone so he can say, "Ho, ho, ho," to the children waving to him along the route. Volunteers hand out candy canes in every car.

In every city or town where I've lived, I've participated in all of it and marvel at the enthusiasm and glee, even in the adults. We all believe, just for a little while, that everything's alright and we are grateful to be of service to each other in remembrance of whose birthday started the big celebration in the first place. Merry Christmas everyone, and may the joy and peace of the season stay with you for the entire new year.

Martha's column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc., newspaper syndicate. Her latest book is the memoir, "A Place to Call Home." www.MarthaRandolphCarr.com. E-mail Martha at: Martha@caglecartoons.com.