John Cuneo

They say Christmas is for children. It sounds pretty to say it.

Me, I am not so sure. My big brother, Sam, is in his dotage, and I am fairly certain Christmas is for him.

The very young wait and fret, almost twitching, for a single, glittering moment. They tear feverishly into a package it took their grandmother an hour to adorn. They watch their parents untangle miles of lights, gasp and coo when the bulbs blink on, and then are bored stupid within three minutes and go back to playing on their phones. They gnaw the head off a chocolate Rudolph, devour seven sugar-sprinkled cookies and the roof off a gingerbread house, and then begin to jerk and vibrate in such a glucose overdose it's a wonder they don't strap on their Guardians of the Galaxy rocket boots and shoot for the moon.

Christmas is wasted on such as them. But the old…the miracle for them is in remembering a lifetime of Christmases past in every new season. Which, I guess, means the season is for children, after all.

I love this time—every mile of country road and every aisle in every store picks the lock on one of those memories. I see a single strand of new age, fiber-optic Christmas lights and think about the old, fat, faulty lights that surrounded our cedar tree, usually stolen from the state right-of-way. There were always a half dozen of those lights—the blown ones—in a bowl on a coffee table, like a garnish. I remember how the hot bulbs would cause the tinsel—which I think might have been made from old aluminum siding—to wrinkle and thin, and even as a little boy, I'd think: Well, that ain't good.

Every turkey in every Piggly Wiggly made me think of Charles Dickens. Once, in Winn-Dixie, I saw a goose. I almost danced for joy. Even now, I can smell chocolate-covered cherries across a drugstore. I see tangerines and Brazil nuts and almost cry. I even like the television commercials; it ain't Christmas till you see Santa Claus riding a Philips Norelco shaver.

Yet, compared to my older brother, I am the Grinch himself. He is, most of the year, a terrible grouch. It's a lifetime condition that has worsened in old age. When I was small, I waited patiently—waited years—till he finally got hung up in a barbed wire fence, to bust him with a rock. I thought it would somehow improve him. I would not do it again, but someone needs to. It might take this time.

WATCH: Rick Bragg's Christmas Traditions

But at Christmas, his spirit rises. The weather and the years have left their mark on him, but in this season, I see the boy who knocked mistletoe from the high branches with his pellet rifle and waited up all night listening for Santa Claus and then shook me awake with excitement on his face, in his voice. He always woke me and never left me behind. He always said the same thing.

"He's done come."

"Did you see him?" I would ask.

"Nawwwww," he'd say. "Nobody does."

Even now, in his sixties, he loves this time. He and my sister-in-law, Teresa, light up their house with twinkling lights. A plastic Santa Claus, a relic from our childhood, shines on season after season on the porch. "Sam's a kid "bout Christmas," she says. How wonderful, for that to be absolutely true.