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Christmas involves weeks of preparation - shopping, decorating, wrapping gifts, sending greeting cards, holding parties and attending family gatherings. The season can be a hectic time for most adults.

But Christmas and its gift-giving, sharing and colored lights are best observed in the faces of children. Their eyes glow, their hopes are high, their minds filled with excitement and innocence. There is nothing quite like it in a child's life. And to see a child's anticipation of Christmas can melt the heart of almost any adult.Few things could be more crushing than to have a child discover that Santa didn't come. Most adults can sacrifice and go without at Christmas, but children . . . that's heartbreaking.

Yet thousands of children from poor and needy Utah families won't experience the Santa Claus aspect of Christmas this year without the help and compassion of strangers.

The neediest of these children - some 2,000 of them - are registered in the Sub for Santa program sponsored by the Deseret News and Salt Lake Tribune and are still waiting to be "adopted" this Christmas by substitute Santas. Another 2,000 have already been taken under the wings of individuals, families and organizations.

Their needs range from the usual toys to clothes, perhaps a Christmas tree, and even food. To adopt a family through Sub for Santa, call 237-2139.

In a larger sense, helping needy children at Christmas is not just about Santa Claus. The real meaning of Christmas has to do with brotherly love and sharing. Many families need to be helped, but many more families and individuals are badly in need of giving - and enriching their own lives in the process.

As Jesus Christ - whose birth is celebrated by Christmas - put it: "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these . . . ye have done it unto me."

Christmas falls on Sunday this year. It would be difficult to go to church with a feeling of having failed a needy child, who certainly would qualify as "one of the least . . ."