I took a trip down memory lane with my children as we went to visit my grandfather in Athens on Christmas afternoon.

The very nature of this trip, the route, reminded me how much had changed since I was their age.

We were caravaning behind my brother as we went went to see my grandfather and then on to leave Christmas decorations on grave stones of loved ones at two Limestone County cemeteries.

I explained to my children how my parents' car was filled with presents as we made stops to see grandparents in Athens and then as the song goes — over the river (the Elk River to be exact) and through the woods — to see my other grandparents in Lauderdale County.

The holidays were a more simple time back then, filled with a little magic. Before we took that Christmas journey when I was a child, we always seemed to wake up around 3 a.m. in the morning to see what Santa Claus left for us under the tree.

My father's parents — Harry and Mary Turner — divorced when I was in elementary school. But we thought little of that when we visited their homes in Athens.

My father's mom — we called her Granny — always had fried chicken and southern dressing (I'll explain that in a minute) waiting on us, along with chocolate pies my brothers and I would try to devour as best we could without leaving anybody else any pieces.

When we visited my father's dad — we called him Granddaddy — we still had room for my stepgrandmother Betty's cheddar cheese squares. We got gifts from both places. My grandfather once gave me a pellet gun, which to this day still ranks among my favorite Christmas gifts.

My mother's folks — Arthur and Sarah Greene — lived in the coolest place grandparents could live. They lived in a house my grandfather built himself in a place called Elk Shores, across the road from the Elk River where we used to swim when I was little.

Their Christmas feast always included turkey, ham, deer meat (my grandfather Green was an avid deer hunter who owned part of a hunting camp in New York state) and yankee dressing (yankee dressing is more of a solid, while southern dressing is more of a liquid) the women of my mother's family learned to cook growing up in the heart of Amish country in southern Pennsylvania.

I remember my grandfather's jokes about killing Rudolph. He once left stockings for us filled with switches once, not to mention a lump of coal.

Their house was always the last on the journey. My grandfather always had the fireplace going while we stuffed ourselves and rekindled family memories.

I admitted to my children I felt a little sad they couldn't experience what I did as a child. I was fortunate all of my grandparents were alive when my children were born, and my children do have memories of them, but not the way I did when I was their age.

Three of my grandparents are gone now, as is my sister. Two of the trips to grandmother's house have been replaced by trips to Antioch Cemetery in Elkmont and Gatlin Cemetery in Ardmore.

That's played a role in the changing of the Christmas traditions in my family.

We've tried to adjust.

We now read the second chapter of the book of Luke before opening presents, trying to keep our minds on the "reason for the season." We also try to go out and "see the Christmas lights" of the homes where people seem to go all out.

I also took my daughter to see the Nutcracker in Huntsville for the first time this year, which she really seemed to enjoy.

We also found ourselves searching the television each night for the perfect Christmas movie which I hoped would help us get into more of a Christmas mood.

But still I couldn't help but wonder, because of all that my children have gone through with parents who are divorced and because of the deaths in the family, if Christmas was as magical to them as it once was to me.

• Scott Turner is the managing editor of The Cullman Times. His column runs on Thursdays.

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