In our family and with our friends, we do what you do for Christmas. Our affairs and trappings sound and look to an outsider pretty plain and simple. They are treasures only to the people who have worn them to patina by years of use. There are layers of texture, remembrance and joy that words cannot tell.

And nothing we do comes close to Christmas card perfection. We run out of time, of cinnamon and sugar, of ideas, stamps, patience and good will.

But because, no matter what, we do not run out of hope, true moments of real Christmas magic come. That have nothing to do with money. And everything to do with grace. Intimations of immortality.

We bake cookies. Small fingers decorate the bells and trees and Santas thick and vivid with technicolor frosting and glitter. Every year we take plates wrapped crisply in crinkly cellophane and ribbon to neighbors and we sing. Many years into the practice, we were very late into Christmas eve when we rung the bell at Mr. Kimmel's — across the street on the corner. He always answers with a cigarette dangling from his fingers; smoke encircling his head like a wreath. This year he answered immediately, a smile of delight and relief; then cigarette is deferred and he greets us with a bag of homemade chocolate chip cookies.

Mr. Kimmel says, "I was afraid you weren't coming this year."

One Christmas, we had driven the long 13 hours from California to Utah, and pulled. as if by magic, into a parking place at Temple Square — walked weary and chilly into the Tabernacle, into the Christmas concert — stunning, exquisite timing.

Giant lighted Christmas trees flanked the podium, the choir and orchestra, brilliant in red and black — red and green garlands draped the balcony, wreaths, bows, flowers and twinkling lights everywhere.

Like walking into the blaze of the Celestial Kingdom, a version that was not solemn and quiet, but intense, glorious, triumphant and magnificent. A small metaphor of life — coming out of a bleak winter wandering in wilderness into the splendor of the promised land.

We see ourselves, remember ourselves locked together in joy and laughter; safe, in a bright, warm Merry Christmas house. On a dark December night we see ourselves, every one, wrapped in the arms of his love.

Gay Valentine Genet is from Huntington Beach, Calif.