It’s Christmas.

The madness of the malls is behind us. We survived the gridlock of the freeways on get-away day. The packed flights back East arrived safely despite the weather delays and caterwauling infants. We stuffed the stockings, and before this day is out, our bellies will be stuffed too as old family favorites – secret recipes passed from grandmothers to mothers to daughters – circulate on specials platters used only once a year, today, Christmas Day.

It’s a day of magic for children, when their faith in St. Nick and his flying reindeer is unspoiled by the mundane reality of their moms and dads; ordering online and shopping in stores lacks the mystery of mailing a letter to the North Pole. Elves are more interesting than a third shift in China cranking out toys by the millions.

Toddlers are into Christmas heart and soul. Their older brothers and sisters might harbor some doubts, but, hey, why rock the boat as long as the jolly fat man keeps delivering the goods?

My Santa days are long gone. I’ve entered my sixtieth year, and Christmas at this time of life fills a different need.

Gone are the greedy expectations of fantastical presents or envelopes stuffed with cash — every teenagers dream gift! It’s been decades since I made a Christmas list. Now it’s about the people, the living and the dead. It’s about my brother; this is my third Christmas without him. And it’s about my father who may be celebrating for the last time.

Christmas can be bittersweet; a celebration of what is but also a reminder of what is no more.

Still, this year I get to spend Christmas with my mother, a cancer survivor, the best gift of all. And I’ll see my father as well; that’s what airplanes are for.

If you’re lucky, a grandchild is making his Christmas debut. A new baby is always the star of any Christmas gathering; after all, it was a baby in a manger who got the ball rolling. Grandfathers and great-grandmothers soak in the lights and tinsel and wonder of Christmas vicariously through those tiny innocent baby eyes, a reminder of their own innocence from years ago.

While a joyous day, no doubt, Christmas has a melancholy subtext. We can feel disappointment if we allowed our expectations to get unreasonably high; or perhaps it’s a sense of dread that another year has flown by. How many more gatherings will there be? Christmas is a retrospective holiday, each year in competition with some memorable moment from the past.

We’re lucky New Year’s Day comes one week after. New Year’s is a forward-looking holiday made for resolutions and fresh beginnings, where hopes are high even if our heads are throbbing from too much celebrating the night before.

Soon enough we’ll be back at the airport or packing up the car for the return trip to our everyday lives. The smiles, hugs and handshakes will become fewer as we wrestle with the day-to-day challenges life throws our way. Then winter will yield to spring, spring to summer, and the Christmas spirit will disappear.

Yet, it’s always there, waiting inside us, available when called upon. Season’s Greetings! Peace on Earth! Good will towards men.

If only every day could be lived as we live today.

Doug McIntyre’s column appears Sundays. Hear him weekdays from 5-10 a.m. on KABC AM (790). He can be reached at: