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Christmas is upon us once again. Funny how it turns up every year like clockwork. This year, like many recent years, I have groaned at the thought of Christmas looming on the horizon. I hate crowds, I hate traffic, I hate the fact that I don't have any money, and I especially hate the fact that my two oldest children are far away and can't come home. Given all that rampant negative feeling, I never want Christmas to come. But every year something happens; something strange and remarkable. Something that makes me remember how much I love this time of year.
I drive home from work at night and see all the Christmas lights on the houses and feel good. I listen to Christmas music and feel good. I observe the excitement and anticipation in children and feel good. And all this feeling good makes me love Christmas again.
Christmas is a state of mind fueled by memories; memories of my own childhood holidays and the ones I shared with all my children as they grew up. My best memories of childhood are summers and Christmas. In the summer the days were temperate and beautiful and we took off in the morning and roamed all day in blissful freedom in the meadows above our house and among the redwood trees. I can't recall a single day that was not a kind of adventure and we never worried about rain or bad weather. We would walk for endless miles, climb trees, clamber over rocks, and lie on our backs among the wildflowers staring at the cloudless blue sky. If my baby brother got tired or his short, little legs could not keep up, we would take turns carrying him piggy-back. We never once thought about leaving him behind.
Christmas was a time of wonder and delight. From the moment we put up and decorated my mother's beautiful Christmas tree the magic was among us, and it seemed to float in the air around us like music wherever we were and whatever we did. Christmas is a ritualistic time and we always knew what to expect, but that never diminished the excitement and anticipation that we felt. Every year it was the same tree, the same decorations, the same cookies, the same music, but it seemed fresh and new as if we had never done it before. Christmas is a time that never loses its magic with repetition nor its delight with familiarity. It is one of the few things in life that cannot diminish over time.
It would be nice if I could say that the presents under the tree were not an integral part of the joy of the season, but that would be untrue. The anticipation of bounty was a big part of the whole deal, of course, but I can say that the memories I have of Christmas from childhood are not about the gifts because they are not what figures most powerfully in my mind. The memories of the excitement and anticipation are far more vivid than the things that I was excited about.
When my two oldest were pretty young they came to me after Christmas was over and they had returned to school to share their holiday experiences and asked me why it was that the kids who didn't have much money didn't get as much from Santa. They wondered if Santa was not as generous with poor children and it horrified them. I could see that they were disturbed and struggling. Santa was supposed to love children and want to make them happy. Children were supposed to love Santa. I could see their little minds painfully struggling with trying to reconcile any of what they understood to be true with the reality right in front of them. I hurt for them but was proud of them at the same time. First of all, they were aware enough and cared enough to notice the apparent unfairness of the situation and make an attempt to reconcile any of it with what they understood to be right and how a good person should be. That was something. I knew that it was up to me to give them some way to understand the inequality while still maintaining the joy of Santa in their lives. I told them that it was a great big world with so many children in it that Santa could only bring one gift to each child. I said that even though Santa was magical, he could only carry one gift for each child and still make it around the world in one night, The rest of the gifts under the tree, I told them, had to come from parents and family. This explanation made sense to them and although they were sad that some kids hardly got anything for Christmas, they were able to keep Santa on their list of all around great guys.
When my brothers and I were young we had never seen snow and used to think how wonderful it would be to have snow on Christmas. I don't look forward to snow these days, but I would not object to a beautiful, gentle snowfall on Christmas Eve with big, fluffy flakes that float down out of a windless night sky. That would be nice. Chuck and I could stand outside and watch the snow fall and think how lovely it would be if the world could just remember the meaning of Christmas all year long.
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