Of all the holidays, secular and religious, people celebrate, just one is marked, if only for a short time, by something of a miraculous transformation.
Caught up in what seems to be an ever-accelerating culture in many ways, we slow down for a few hours. We enjoy family and friends - even people we don't really know - as on no other occasion.
As accustomed as we are to news that makes us sad with worry - about the economy, politics, health and children dying - we still find ourselves on edge a lot of the time. That is, except for once a year, when, for just a few hours, it doesn't really matter what is in the headlines.
For about 11 months of the year, we watch our spending closely. Charity begins at home, after all.
Not now. For weeks, residents in the Chautauqua region have opened their wallets and purses wide in the hope the holiday season really can be merry for everyone.
In our hearts, faith for many of us sometimes is an afterthought. We believe, each in his or her own way - but we are sometimes too private about our religion.
That changes in December. The Christian faith becomes more a part of our everyday thoughts.
It is the time when we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the first part of a promise fulfilled for those of our faith. Only Easter approaches the importance of this holiday for Christians.
This evening, Christmas Eve, will be a time when the eager anticipation of young and innocent hearts reaches a crescendo. Even as we make hurried, last-minute preparations for holiday feasts, time with friends and family, and exchanging of gifts, we revel in the calm this night brings.
Tomorrow is Christmas Day!
Tonight, at church services in every corner of the world, the faithful will gather to hear the Christmas story and to delight in the old, familiar carols.
''Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright ...
''Joy to the world, the Lord has come ...''
We have heard them hundreds, perhaps thousands, of times - yet still they stir our souls.
Yes, it is something of a miracle.