[Note: We're headed out for Oregon for two weeks.
This will mean an
almost certain two-week break in this column, with the next edition
posted January 8.]
In the fine old tradition of journalists who recycle their
holiday messages year after year, here's the 13th rerun of my
Christmas message since Dec. 21, 1998 (with a few slight modifications).
Season's greetings to one and all. Apologies to those of you
who feel oppressed by the season. I know Christians, atheists and Jews
who feel the seasonal oppression in equal parts. Oppression and
depression. I'm sorry. This message isn't going to cheer you up, much.
This is a time of year that has inspired some of the most
brilliant writing in the English language. It ranges from Dickens' A
Christmas Carol (which single-handedly revived the
celebration of Christmas as a major holiday in the English-speaking
world), to the sturdy newspaper editorial entitled Yes
Virginia, There is a Santa Claus. In more modern times, we
have, among other things, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas
and the unforgettable Bill Murray as Scrooge in the Dickens adaptation,
Scrooged. (Not to mention Olive, The Other
Reindeer. Never seen it. Love the pun).
Alas, like so many of us, the muse seems to have taken off
early. I briefly considered, as I do every year, throwing in some of
Dylan Thomas' A Child's Christmas In Wales which Fr. Harrison West and
I recited several times at Benson High School assemblies (long before
he was Fr. West). But then I decided just to do a quick Christmas
What is Christmas about? It can be about the birth of Jesus,
but for most of us it isn't. It's about many things.
Christmas is about singing (or listening to) Christmas carols.
My favorite annual Christmas party, bar none, is the Christmas Caroling
party held annually by our best friends. They're Jewish, and so are
many of the party goers. Joyful voices raised together. Doesn't matter
if they're not in tune. Doesn't matter if some of the lyrics are
Christian claptrap. Jingle Bells, White Christmas
and Jingle Bell Rock, along with the rest of the
secular Christmas liturgy are just plain fun. I wince a little
sometimes when we sing the later verses of God Rest Ye Merry,
Gentlemen, or Good King Wenceslas"
(Question: speaking of muses, why is it that the muse flees
lyricists somewhere between the first and second verses?) Besides, I
get to do "Five Golden Rings" every year when we sing The 12
Days Of Christmas.
Christmas is about family and friends. It is about Egg Nog (or
fat-free "Holiday Nog") and all the rest of the seasonal food. It is
about the children.
It's about traveling, at the worst travel time of year, to be
your family. This year, we are headed to Lincoln City, Oregon, then
Seaside, where we will scatter my dad's ashes. My wife and younger
daughter will join me in Lincoln City. My older daughter has to work.
My niece will meet us in Seaside. We leave on
the 22nd, and
return on the 2nd, leaving a few days before we go back to work (or
school) on the 7th).
Christmas is about family traditions when you're a kid, and
blending of family traditions when you marry. In childhood, my family
stayed at home on Christmas, my wife was always a Christmas runaway. My
lights went up the Saturday after Thanksgiving each year and came down
the Saturday after New Years. Vicki's went up on Christmas Eve and came
down on Boxing Day. There aren't as many lights as when the
were little. That's OK.
We've had artificial trees for years. Marlow asked for a big real tree
her freshman year at college, so we put a 14-footer in the library in
1999; then Rae asked for one and got it in 2003. This year -- just a
little tabletop tree with Chinese decorations. But it's a fancy
artificial tree, with two kinds of lights and a remote control, modeled
after a White Vermont Spruce. We bought it in January 2008, at an
after-Christmas sale in an artificial tree store.
Christmas is about giving thanks. Thanksgiving is the official
holiday to give thanks for our good fortune, but nothing says you can't
do that at Christmas as well. Every Christmas morning when I wake up
with my health, my wife, my children, and my brother as part
of this world, I count my blessings. Mine are beyond counting. I hope
yours are too. I have adult-onset diabetes, but there are lots of worse
diseases in the world. Mine, at least, is under control. I almost died
in a car crash in January 2007, but I'm still alive. My wacky ticker
made me faint, and now I have a defibrillator / pacemaker. Beats the
Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town
corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the
voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never
remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was
twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I