Once upon a time, in a place far north of Neosho, dark came early in December. On Christmas Eve each year, a little girl claimed the bottom stair landing and set up watch there, waiting for Santa Claus. The window faced north and the view was open across the neighbor's yard and above the trees. The clear night sky sparkled with stars, undimmed by the city lights. On that landing and in the hallway, it remained dim and the shadows were tall.

In the kitchen and the living room, light banished the darkness but in waiting for a glimpse of Rudolph's bright nose, I endured the dark.

On that night I can't remember minding. On many others, I did.

We lived in an old house, a place where floors often creaked as if tread by unseen feet. Indistinct voices often whispered on the edge of consciousness. On any other evening, I kept within the lighted areas, near the lamps and often gathered near to my parents.

Even though my dad taught me that what's there in the dark is there in the light, I preferred light over darkness.

But on Christmas Eve, heady with anticipation I braved the shadows, in search of the promise to come.

I would keep my eyes to the sky until I found a red light. It may have been the top of a radio tower. It could have been the lights of a passing airplane but on Christmas Eve, I knew that red glow meant Rudolph led Santa closer. Soon, he would arrive on his rounds, bringing gifts.

I never doubted that when I awakened in the morning that I would find presents under the tree.

That little girl moved away from that house and the old neighborhood. She grew up into a woman who would always dream and write and believe.

I will always have a fond affection for Santa and all that he means but I've learned that there is a greater light that banishes all darkness.

On this evening as we prepare to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, I welcome His light. While many are settling down for a long winter's name, I will be at church. On the dark hilltop where St. Canera Church stands, the sanctuary will be bright. The choir will sing joyful songs, my daughter's voice one of many.

Last year, the crowded church became so warm that ushers opened the windows to let in some cooler air. That brought down the temperature but for me it did more. The sweet joy of the songs and service wafted out across Neosho, bringing an eternal message of goodwill and of the gift that is Jesus as the midnight hour approached.

Christmas is a reminder that we all are waiting for a light in the darkness and to keep the faith.

On this blessed Christmas Eve, merry Christmas from my family to yours.

-Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy is the editor for The Neosho Daily News and The Aurora Advertiser. She writes a weekly column, A Writer's View.