Childhood is a time when our senses are more finely tuned than at any other time of our lives. Too bad that at the time we aren't experienced enough to appreciate it.

Grant Wood, who created the famous painting "American Gothic," once said something very enlightening about this heightened awareness that children possess:"Almost all of us have some dream power in our childhood, but without encouragement it leaves us and then we become bored and tired and ordinary. In most of our studies, we deal only with material things or in ideas that are materialistic. We are carefully coached in the most modern and efficient ways of making our bodies comfortable and we become so busy about getting ourselves all nicely placed that we are apt to forget the dream spirit that is born in all of us. Then someday, when we are physically comfortable, we remember dimly a distant land we used to visit in our youth. We try to go again but we cannot find the way. Our imagination machinery is withered just as our legs or arms might wither if we forget for years and years to use them."

When I was little, we used to visit Grandma Smith in Draper every Sunday afternoon. On a high shelf in her kitchen was one of those crystal balls with fake snow inside it. This one, a souvenir of Yellowstone, had a bear in it, and every time I would tip it upside down this bear would suddenly be trudging through a snow storm. I never tired of looking at it, and would pull it down and watch the swirls of blizzard encircle that bear every time we were at Grandma's.

The other day, while we were decorating our Christmas tree, out of the depths of one of the cardboard boxes of ornaments was pulled an orb of blizzard like Grandma's (this one with a Santa Claus in it) that had been picked up somewhere in a past year and consigned to the Christmas stuff. It reminded me of Grandma's bear in the crystal ball, except this one was not as hefty as hers. I'm almost sure hers was real glass. This one was plastic and on the bottom of it said "Made in Hong Kong."

Still, the principle is the same.

I got to thinking about this childhood thing - how we change and forget how we really felt when we were little, with our senses wide open, and how Christmas is a time when fragments of such feelings come to the surface. I'm sure that's one of the reasons holidays catch on so well. They are an excuse to reach onto the shelf of memory and for a brief moment tip the settled routine of everyday life upside down.

Suddenly, a swirl of emotions hits us, laced with everything from holiday lights strung over Main Street to the intimate profile of our own face reflected in the curved surface of a Christmas tree ornament.

For a few precious days, snowy billows of excitement whirl around the image of our own Santa Clauses. The sound of Christmas songs and the smell of pine boughs trigger a moment of our own childness, regardless of our age.

Soon enough, the white flakes will settle. Soon enough, the resolutions and commitments of a new year will be crammed back into the forefront of our consciousness. But for the moment, an almost liquid atmosphere of Christmas has tipped the world upside down and we are caught in a giddy swirl of emotions. While it is in flux, we may as well use the opportunity to find again the dream spirit that was born in all of us, to savor again the distant land we used to visit in our youth.