With the hustle and bustle of life keeping us in an ever-increasing flurry – what needs to get done, who needs to be where – this time of year can lose a bit of its magical luster as we get older and slip into the robe of responsibility that is adulthood and parenthood.
We carry that magic around with us well after childhood. It might not always be so easy to see as we grow older and our focus finds itself divided among so many other things than we concerned ourselves with as children (though several years ago, I did spend winter wearing a Macy’s “Believe” button on my coat), but it’s still there, even if below the surface. It’s in the smiles on our faces, the kindness in our hearts and minds, and our actions to others – now, and hopefully all through the year.
So when a child, all but the age of six, starts asking questions on just how Santa Claus can do all he does, I admit, I started to wonder if the magic of the holidays season was already beginning to fade away from our household. I was feeling crushed.
When what, to our wondering eyes did appear, but a tiny little gnome, but no reindeer.
Not long after the questions began to arise from our oldest, our family returned home from an evening story time at Barnes & Noble and there, sitting in our living room, was a small gnome. With him was a note, explaining to us that some of Santa’s elves were doing reconnaissance work in the area and dropped off this little gnome, who wanted some visiting time with a good family. Unlike those elves on shelves we hear so much about, the note explained that gnomes aren’t the mischievous types or cause trouble. Instead, they just like to play hide and seek, careful not to move when we humans are around, but often enjoying finding places to hide out until we can find them.
Though his stay is only temporary until he hops a ride back to the North Pole with Santa, the little guy, whom our kids named Rex, has reinvigorated the energy and magic of the holiday in our home. Since his arrival, our kids awake, anxiously looking forward to what funny places Rex found to hide in overnight. Together, we share in the silliness, the laughs, and somehow, this little guy has very simply brought back a bit of magic to all of us, and made many of the questions of weeks past fade away.
Thanks, Rex. We owe you big time for the visit.
So here we are. Halfway through the winter season here in the northeast, the holidays over, the decorations all put away (minus the red and white lights out in front of our house that seem to nag at me whenever I see them yet never call to me with the urgency needed to get my butt outside and take them down), and a new year has begun.
I know I can’t be the only one who deals with feelings of a letdown post-holidays. In fairness, though, I fully admit I reach a point over the holidays when I’ve had my fill of everything – festivities, openings, family gatherings, the clutter, all of it, and want back to the normalcy and routine of the rest of the year. So let me make that part perfectly clear from the get-go.
I think you know what I mean, right? When it’s all over, you’re stuck cleaning up, putting everything away, in some cases finding room for additional things in the house (especially if you have kids).
I mean, sure, you might catch a great post-holiday sale (net lights for under 3 bucks?! Ornaments for under a buck? A nice wreath for under 4 bucks?!) and be ahead of the game for next year at a fraction of the cost.
But taking out those things, there always seems to be something else…something intangible about the way the season changes once the holiday ends. Call it wishful thinking, call it hopelessly optimistic, but no matter the year, no matter what’s going on in the world, it always seems, when the days countdown to the holiday, all those elements of the season just somehow seem to come together and create that perfect stew known as the Christmas spirit.
It’s a feeling, seen in every smile, every snowflake, every Christmas light you pass on the street.
And then, in a flash, it’s all gone.
Then it’s back to the grind and with it, there’s something just a little…different about the attitudes in the air.
I certainly don’t want Christmas every day. For that, I refer you, as I do my son when he starts wishing it was every day, to the first tale in the Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas special. In it, Huey, Dewey and Louie’s wish for Christmas every day is granted and when they wake each day, it’s Christmas morning. And boy do they get sick of it really fast.
What makes it so special is gone.
But what about that invisible something? Is it only special as well because we don’t get the best of each other all the rest of the year, even if we want to?
Is it possible to bottle it for the rest of the year?
It makes me think of a song from 1978’s Christmas Eve on Sesame Street – a special we break out every year that still remains one of my favorites. It’s lyrics, perhaps, sum up the best way to to maintain the spirit the other 364 days. How to, Keep Christmas with You, so to speak.
When Christmas time is over and presents put away, don’t be sad
There’ll be so much to treasure about this Christmas day and the fun we’ve had
So may happy feelings to celebrate with you
And, oh, the good times hurry by so fast,
But even when it’s over there’s something you can do to make Christmas last
Keep Christmas with you
All through the year,
When Christmas is over,
You can keep it near.
Think of this Christmas day
When Christmas is far away.
Keep Christmas with you
All through the year,
When Christmas is over,
Save some Christmas cheer.
These precious moments,
Hold them very dear
And keep Christmas with you
All through the year.
Christmas means the spirit of giving
Peace and joy to you,
The goodness of loving,
The gladness of living;
These are Christmas too.
So, keep Christmas with you
All through the year,
When Christmas is over,
Save some Christmas cheer.
These precious moments,
Hold them very dear
And keep Christmas with you
All through the year.
It’s that time of year for many.
Decorations go up, lights strewn around the house, frantic attempts to finish shopping in time, and that age-old question “what do you want for Christmas?”
It’s an answer that in youth came with ease. I see it in our son with how easily he rattles off a few ideas whenever anyone asks him what’s on his Christmas list (and, we, the killjoy parents reminding him there’s such a thing as too much). But I get it. I was there once right where he is, where the possibilities were endless and exhilarating.
As time goes on though, I find myself puzzled when asked that question by a relative getting ready to do some holiday shopping. I rarely have an answer. Even as an adult, in the past, there’s been books, or a nice sweater or shirt. But, the more time that passes, the more I really and truly find myself wanting nothing.
Scratch that. Wanting nothing but the chance to just get together, have some good food, some good company, and spend time with people.
I know. It’s a cliche. A total Christmas commercial cliche.
Maybe it’s a sign of age. Or maybe it’s a sign that I’m becoming quite boring (if I was ever really interesting to begin with), but whatever it may be, it has become what I look forward to the most at the holidays.
It may sound naive, it may sound cliche, but I’ll gladly take it. No wrapping required.
When Meg and I started out, we had an artificial tree. It was nothing elaborate – just something simple and nice that she picked up on sale one Black Friday that worked fine for our little two-person Christmases.
Little by little, our household grew – one cat, two cats, three cats, and finally one tiny human, and that poor little tree didn’t last too long against the combined might of three felines and a baby. So, a few years ago, we started getting real trees for Christmas.
With it came the adventure and joy of having the little guy bundled up, walking with us among rows of trees, looking for just the right one for our little home. But that’s not to say it didn’t come without its own challenges, and this year certainly had plenty.
The plan was simple – while the little guy takes his nap, mom and dad will put up the tree. Easy, simple, no problem.
Easier said than done.
We got the tree inside and into the designated area with little difficulty, but getting it to stand up in the tree stand was a completely different story. In it would go, screws tightened, let go and…down it went in an instant.
Hmmm. Maybe the screws/fasteners just hit a bad spot.
Spin it around, try the screws in new spots and give it a whirl. Let go and…down it went again.
This went on for about 45 minutes as we each tried our best to figure out just how to get this tree to stop falling down on us, even though it was screwed into the stand. Meanwhile, the sounds from upstairs indicated the little guy had no intention of going to sleep that afternoon and was not in a happy mood.
Finally, in a last-ditch effort for any type of improvement, Meg suggested getting a small piece of wood from the garage. I keep odds and end pieces in there leftover from various projects around the house. Upon finding one small enough to fit inside the base, I brought it inside and she wedged it in the base, giving the tree just the support it needed to finally, thankfully, stand up straight.
With that, we were okay to bring the little guy downstairs (free of a falling-tree zone) and continue decorating with his occasional assistance. Upon our tree was a veritable memory book of our lives so far, from the Macy’s Elf Meg and I picked up on one of our several pre-parenthood trips to New York City, to the Scrooge McDuck as Ebeneezer Scrooge ornament that reminds me of my childhood love of the character, one that seems to have, inadvertently been picked up by our son.
Now, several weeks later, it’s all done.
This past weekend, it all got packed up. The tree out at the curb, ready to be re-purposed by our municipality, the gifts that sat under it now put away, as our the stockings and decorations that helped bring the season to life.
We didn’t get a white Christmas this year, it was too warm.
At times I thought it didn’t feel like the holiday season with the weather being the way it was, but as we tucked away all those decorations for another year, I realized that despite what was happening outside – inside our little home, stockings, vintage Santa postcards, and a beautiful Douglass Fir in front of a television playing classics we love (From White Christmas to the Bishop’s Wife, Mickey’s Christmas Carol to It’s a Wonderful Life), the season was in full swing in our home, and we had total control over that.
Yeah, me neither. Until I had a two-year old that it is.
The little guy has been quite a fan of “Mickey’s Christmas Carol” – an affection not just limited to this time of year. He’s requested to watch it pretty regularly since Summer, actually. It’s started a love of “Unca Scrooge” that has transitioned into flipping through many of my old comics (and any new ones we can find for him) featuring the World’s Richest Duck.
But it’s also made him familiar with characters that, through the Disney-Mickey interpretation, he might otherwise be completely unaware of – at least at two and a half years old, that is.
He talks about Tiny Tim, he talks about Scrooge, and he talks about the Ghost – most importantly, Marley’s ghost. He narrates the special for us, telling me “Marley ghost is comin.” or “Giant ghost in Scrooge’s room!” mere seconds before it happens on screen.
And not just limited to Dickens, it has made me appreciate how interpretations can resonate with audiences and individuals far more than the original source material. While he has to inclination to want to pick up a copy of Dickens’ classic – even if it were in board or Little Golden Book form, he knows this story, its themes (“Scrooge mean”…”Scrooge bein’ nice now,” as he says) because of this particular interpretation of the story.
Literary Purists might balk at this, but honestly, I find it wonderful that a toddler is understanding the characters, themes, and story in such a morality tale, thanks to it being told to him through characters he likes and understands.
With that said, that affection and familiarity seems to transition far out of the TV screen. This entire Christmas season he has been putting blankets on his head and walking around the house saying “me a ghost!”
The other night, he made me hide under the blanket with him. There I was, in darkness, with the face of my amazing little boy, also sitting under the blanket, staring right at me with a huge smile.
“Dada, we play game?”
“What game could we play under here, buddy?”
“We play Jacob Marley game.”
“How do we play the Jacob Marley Game?”
(i pretend to be frightened and his giggling ensures)
There’s that song lyric about the ‘scary ghost stories’ of Christmas’ long, long ago.
Well don’t call it a comeback. If you ask this kid, they never left. 🙂
And all I can think is ‘how the heck did it get here so quickly?!’
I’m not talking in that ‘I’m unprepared!” way when events sneak up on your despite their regularity every year. No, I mean, what the heck happened to the lead-up?
This revelation hit me when, of all things, I was putting some bottles of beer in the fridge.
Every winter, I get a pack of the Samuel Adams Winter/Holiday Pack. It comes with such staples as the Boston Lager, but some special winter-y mixes like White Christmas, Winter Lager and my favorite, Old Fezziwig Ale. It seems that even in years of recent memory, I would savor the dark days of winter (or quasi-winter, meaning when it’s not officially winter and just cold), leading up and thinking about the season – past, present and future – while savoring these favorite beers of mine.
And as I was loading them into the fridge last night I thought – ‘it’s almost Christmas Eve. In mere days, that’s it, the holiday is over.’
Then it struck me just how fast it’s been breezing by. While I was prepared for the holiday and any festivities that come with it, my shopping done early, our prep for family gatherings done, it dawned on me how I’ve yet to find that relaxed ‘ahhh. the holidays’ state of mind I’ve known in years past. And I can’t put my finger on why this may be.
Could it be the warmer, dreary and rainy weather this Christmas, making for a green, muddy holiday than the idealistic White Christmases of the past? Last year, it was expected to be green and on Christmas Eve, snowed by surprise – “A Christmas Miracle!”
Is it that the little guy is already 2 1/2, making the ticks of the clock and the tears of the calendar pages seem to move ever faster in general?
Or has all of life led to a hurry-up, checklist, get this done lifestyle that hasn’t lent itself to such relaxing and reflecting as before? Is that just the natural course of life and parenthood?
I have no concrete answer. But I do know that it’s yet another wake-up call to me to take heed of this fast-paced breeze through life and start living it before it passes us all by.
As the year comes to a close and another begins to start, I think it’s maybe appropriate that I’ve had this wake-up call when I have.
Every now and then I need that kind of kick in the pants to stop running around in that checklist-driven life and start just enjoying life for what it is. Otherwise it’s going to pass you by before you know it.
If you have yet to see this movie, and you want to believe that human beings can be good, decent people, please do so. Don’t bother with made-for-tv versions or theatrical remakes years later. Go for the real deal. Edmund Gwenn, Maureen O’Hara, John Payne and Natalie Wood.
If you’re unfamiliar, I’ll give you the gist – a white-bearded, jovial man who happens to be in the right place at the right time, is a last-minute replacement for a drunken Santa at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. He’s such a hit, he’s hired to be the department store Santa. So ‘goodwilled’ is he, that when Macy’s doesn’t have the toys kids are looking for, he sends them to rival department stores. The head of Macy’s loves it and instructs all employees to recommend other stores that carry products they’re out of. It’s the goodwill gesture and PR event of the century. Other stores jump on board and commercialism seems to be thrown out the window. Until a grumpy store psychiatrist doesn’t care for Kris Kringle and pushes to have him committed on the grounds that if he claims to be Santa, he must be insane.
A hearing and then a trial ensues, where a plucky young lawyer sets out to prove the impossible, that the man in court is in fact, the one and only Santa Claus. He does so too, in a wonderful, spectacular way.
The court wants proof from a ‘recognized authority’ that this man is Santa? Well, leave it to a disgruntled postal employee to set the wheels in motion. The Santa trial is making headlines and with lots of letters to Santa needing somewhere to go, the postal service has them all delivered to the NYC-based courthouse where the trial is being held.
The U.S. Postal Service – a recognized government entity, therefore acknowledges (as it is a crime to willfully misdirect mail) that the man in the courtroom receiving those letters is Santa Claus. How can the county court disagree with that?
It’s a spectacular and charming scene and every single time it happens, every time the case is dismissed, and young, cynical little Susan believes, it just give me reason not only to believe in the spirit of old St. Nick, but in how good people can be.
It’s the type of movie I can’t wait to show my son one day. I look forward to watching each year, and sometimes, a few times during the year. Not because of Christmas (in fact, it was originally released to theaters in the summer!), but because it’s about hope, about believing.
As lawyer Fred Gailey says in the film of Kris Kringle: “Faith is believing when common sense tells you not to. Don’t you see? It’s not just Kris that’s on trial, it’s everything he stands for. It’s kindness and joy and love and all the other intangibles.”
Forget the presents, forget church and religion. For me, that is what the entire season is about – believing in the goodness of people, believing and hoping for a better world, where people treat and help each other all year-long like they show they can during those few weeks of the holidays.
As Kris Kringle himself says: “Oh, Christmas isn’t just a day, it’s a frame of mind… and that’s what’s been changing. That’s why I’m glad I’m here, maybe I can do something about it.”
I’m a sentimental sap, I know.
But hey, it keeps me believing. And I’m 33.
One of the things I love about the holidays is some of the great history that comes along with it. I’m an absolute sucker for the History Channel’s documentaries on the stories behind Halloween, Thanksgiving and, of course, Christmas.
The old photos, newspaper clippings, engravings – there’s just something so amazing to not only learn how these traditions we know today came to be (many of which are not what we think), but some of the most iconic moments to come about throughout them.
That’s why I’m so in love with the story of the “Yes, Virginia” letter from 1897. In fact, I even did a reading of it when I was working in broadcasting when I was anchoring the news on Christmas Eve last year. It’s just another one of those things, like my soft spot for “Miracle on 34th Street” that fill you a wonderful feeling of why, whether you’re young or old, a good dose of belief in goodwill and representatives of it, such as Santa Claus, make life a lot less dreary.
When eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon was beginning to doubt the existence of Santa because of peer pressure from her friends, she took her father at his word that if it’s in the New York Sun, ‘it’s so’ and wrote a letter to the editor of the paper in 1897. That letter read:
“DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, ‘If you see it in THE SUN it’s so.’ Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?” – Virginia O’Hanlon, 115 West Ninety-Fifth Street.
The response was printed as an unsigned editorial on September 21, 1897 and was penned by veteran newsman Francis Pharcellus Church. Since that time, it’s become a part of American folklore at the holidays, and has become history’s most reprinted newspaper editorial, appearing in part or whole in dozens of languages in books, movies, and other editorials, and on posters and stamps.
Church published his response as follows:
“VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.
Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.
Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.
You may tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.
No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.”
What a wonderful response. Maybe I’m partial because of my journalism past and I love the idea of a media outlet coming out with such a response to not only support, but boost her belief. It’s the way it should be. In a day and age when it seems so easy to be unhappy or unkind, isn’t it nice to show kids (and us adults), that there’s a little Santa in all of us?
I think so. 🙂
With a five month old now added to the mix, I admit that our movie viewing habits have drastically reduced, or have become divided into segments. After all, any time we get where he is napping is usually spent taking care of more pressing matters around the house rather than watching the boob tube.
Somehow, whether it was his being infatuated with his mother’s face, or the ceiling fan up above, my little monkey was pretty calm while the wife and I took in all the Jimmy Stewart-Donna Reed goodness.
You don’t need me to say that it still holds up to this day – the story of the average joe who’s sacrificed so much of his dreams to help out those around him, only to fall knee deep into it himself and hit rock bottom and wish he were never born.
When I watched it this year, though, something was slightly different. Perhaps it was the frustration George Bailey felt at home with the “drafty old house” or the constant noise of the kids after an absolute day from hell. Suddenly, I was not only enjoying this film as I have for years, I was suddenly relating to it.
We all have the things we wanted to do with out lives, and in George’s case, it was seeing the world and living a life of adventure. He gave it up, though, time and again – when his father passed and he had to take over the Building and Loan, when he fell in love with Mary and they bought that old, run-down Victorian house and decided to fix it up, when he realized that the ever flirtatious Violet was not interested in his wacky dreams, or when he stayed at the Building and Loan so that his brother, Harry, could have the life and dreams HE wanted.
In the end, of course, that’s what brings all those friends and acquaintances rallying around George when he needs it, but it took some getting there for George to realize how good he had it when the chips were down.
Earlier this month, I came across this great introspective article over at “The Art of Manliness,” a phenomenal website definitely worth subscribing to. From teaching/reminding useful skills that often get lost in our fast-paced, technological society, to an appreciation for the things of the past, this website is really something.
Anyway, the article can be found right here: http://artofmanliness.com/2012/12/03/the-george-bailey-technique/
What it does is propose the exercise of doing a “George Bailey” on your own life. Sit down, and write out what your life would be like without a particular person, place or event in your life that brings you happiness.
It may seem like a simple thing to do, but once you start delving in to the paths that might not have crossed, you can hit upon some dark places in your mind, my friend. At times, it can be downright scary.
I think of just some of the seemingly random events that have led me to where I am today.
- “What if I never took that phone call asking if I was interested in a job at my current workplace?”
- “What if I never took that job?”
- “What if I never went out for drinks that time and made some new friends?”
- “What if I hadn’t, through those friends, found out about a play at a local theatre needing an extra actor or two and been coerced into trying out?”
- “What if I hadn’t been at this new job that had the flexibility to be in a play?”
- “What if I hadn’t agreed to go back months later and tryout again?”
You get my point. I could go on forever, and that’s just for one particular event in my life – meeting my wife. If those particular sequences of events had not taken place, I would never have met the woman I’m married to today. We would never have become friends, later begun dating, and eventually gotten married. The three cherished cats that have become like our first children, would never have been rescued, and been left to fates I don’t even dare think about without getting upset. And we would have, of course, never had our newborn son, the little man whose mere smirk or smile is enough to make me want to race home each and every day to see.
What I’m saying is that, while watching George Bailey torture himself to discover why he’s important, I realized that we all have those kind of days. Those days when it seems like we’re taking the falls for the absent-minded Uncle Billies in our lives, when our finances seem in trouble or drained, when the kids just won’t give you a moment to yourself, and when the Mr. Potters of the world just won’t let up and give us a break, trying to crush our spirits.
There’s countless times where I’ve been frustrated with work, or a co-worker, or a lack of space or function in our old house, or a surprise bill in the mail. “If we only had more money, if we only had different careers, if we only had a bigger, better home…”
It’s so easy to think about the obstacles we come across, what we don’t have, or to think the grass would be greener someplace or someway else. However, when we realize what we have an how such chance moments in life led us to it, how easily that could have all slipped by if we had made a different decision, it really puts things in perspective.
It’s easy to let the world crash down around us when this happens, to wonder “what if.” But instead of wanting to throw ourselves off our personal Bedford Falls bridge, maybe we need to listen to that little Clarence Oddbody (AS2 – ‘Angel, Second Class’) in the back of our minds and remember what it is that we have around us in our lives.
If we did that more often, we might all see that life isn’t so bad and those obstacles don’t outweigh what we have, who we have, and what lives we have touched.
We might just see that it really is a Wonderful Life.