A Christmas Season Reflection
By Melissa Minners
The holiday season – a joyous time of year where peace and good will reign…unless you’re trying to get hold of a $399 laptop computer. That’s when good passes out the window. So what if I just knocked down some 70-year-old grandmother, causing her to be trampled on by several other crazed shoppers! I got the gift I wanted. Hey, I only pushed her…I wasn’t the one that stepped on her!
It would seem that the spirit of the holiday season is lost on many people. How often do we hear people rant about how they hate this time of the year, citing everything from traffic jams to undesirable relatives, to empty pockets? Well, I’m writing this article in an effort to spread some Christmas cheer to all of the G-POP readers out there and to perhaps stir up some of that old Christmas spirit still lingering within us all.
As a child, I grew up celebrating two very different and distinct holidays within the month of December. My father is Catholic and my mother is Jewish. As my brother is fond of saying, we grew up as “Cashews”. Rather than suffering through the dilemma of trying to decide which holiday we should be celebrating, my open-minded parents decided that we should know the meanings of the holidays of both faiths. They made certain that we knew there was more to Hanukkah and Christmas than the gift giving. What these gifted storytellers couldn’t impart on us through their tales, they taught us through books. We read stories about the Macabees and their historical nights spent in a temple with a small amount of oil that miraculously lit the temple for eight nights. We read about the Virgin Mary and her husband Joseph and their night spent in the manger where the infant Jesus, believed to be the son of God, was born. We learned what the gifts given on both holidays symbolized and how precious these gifts were supposed to be – selfless and from the heart.
As celebrators of both holidays, we decorated as such. Pictures of menorahs and Christmas trees adorned the refrigerator. We set up a menorah beside the Christmas tree and made great celebration of lighting one of the candles each of the eight days of Hanukkah. As with Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Christmas were holidays steeped in tradition. Each night of Hanukkah found us snacking on Hanukkah gelt – little pieces of chocolate shaped as coins and wrapped in gold foil. Most Christmas Eves were spent wrapping gifts, staying up late listening to Christmas songs and waiting for Santa. Christmas mornings, we would wake up super early to unwrap the gifts placed under the tree. Most Christmases found us traveling to my grandmother’s house to celebrate with the rest of my dad’s family – gift giving, cookie eating and one heck of a big Christmas dinner! Of course, there were other little traditions involved there, too – getting up early to get to Grandma’s house, promising we would be there around 11AM and actually getting there around 1PM due to some mishap or delay of some kind. There was also the annual telling of the tale of the one Christmas time when I was 4 or 5 years old and I received Baby Alive, a doll that eats and drinks, and consequently poops and pees. I supposedly looked the doll up and down before groaning, “Just what I never wanted!” To this date, I will never live that down.
But even before the holidays arrived, there were all sorts of traditions we followed. From television shows to books, baking to gift wrapping, there were plenty of things to do and see around the holidays, beginning with the tree lighting at Rockefeller Center. Every year, we’d sit around the television for an hour, waiting for the fateful moment when some celebrity or another would throw the switch and light the multi-colored majestic tree, signaling the start of the holiday season that begins earlier and earlier each year. (Stores started selling Christmas decorations this year alongside Halloween masks and costumes.) One year, I decided that I would see the tree in person with a friend and her toddler daughter. While we gaped in awe at the wondrous site of this tree surrounded by giant toy soldiers, the toddler gazed in fascination at the tiny, bejeweled tree she spotted in the window of a jewelry store nearby. Go figure!
As a child, I grew up with many an animated tale shown around Christmas time. CBS seemed to have the market on Christmas Specials. There were puppet animation stories like The Year Without A Santa Claus, Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer, Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town, and The Little Drummer Boy. These animated tales still remain a favorite today. Who can forget the Burl Ives Snowman telling the tale of a reindeer with an unusually bright red nose? Or Fred Astaire recounting the story of how Santa Claus came to be? Or Mickey Rooney as a Santa Claus looking for a vacation from Christmas?
Then, there were the cartoons like A Charlie Brown Christmas, The Littlest Christmas Tree, Frosty the Snowman, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and more. Who didn’t sympathize with Charlie Brown when he was depressed at Christmas time? How about when he thought he had killed the tree? Who didn’t laugh at Snoopy playing guitar opposite Schroeder on piano? Do you remember Frosty yelling “Happy Birthday!” every time that top hat was placed upon his head? Or that hysterical bunny who ran away from the magic act with the hat that started it all?
Every television series at the time had a special Christmas episode, from The Waltons and Little House on the Prairie to Happy Days. And movies about the Christmas spirit were on every channel. Every version of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens that you could think of aired at one time or another. There was the cartoon version with Mr. Magoo as Scrooge. There was a Disney version. Alastaire Sim played the miserly old codger in a decidedly spooky version of the tale. There were musical versions – remember this song: “Thank you very much / Thank you very much / That’s the nicest thing that anyone’s every done for me”? There was a modernized version of the tale featuring Henry Winkler as a version of Ebenezer. In fact, nowadays, there are so many renditions of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens that one couldn’t possibly view them all. It remains one of the most popular tales of Christmas spirit. Other favorites include A Miracle on 34th Street, It’s A Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story, The Gift of the Magi, The House Without A Christmas Tree, I’ll Be Home For Christmas, and more. There was even a year when the sci-fi moguls tried their hand at a Christmas Special – anyone remember the disaster that was the Star Wars Holiday Special? In recent years, there have been more movies added to the must watch list, including On the Second Day of Christmas, The Santa Claus, and The Polar Express. Each movie has a special meaning to offer and each one holds a special place in our hearts.
When we weren’t watching Christmas specials on television, we were scanning the radio waves for Christmas carols. You could always find one or two if you just kept moving the dial around. On Christmas Eve, you turned the dial to either Z100 or 95.5WPLJ, depending on the year, and listened to the 24 Hours of Christmas, a special time where the stations played only Christmas carols, all day long. It was supposed to be a commercial free event, but I must say, I never understood how a commercial free stunt could have so many advertising breaks. For 24 hours, non-stop Christmas carols, with many, many repeats, regardless of how many different songs were out there. What I never could understand is why the Christmas carols would end around 3PM on Christmas Day. I mean, it’s still Christmas, for Pete’s sake! Nowadays, there are stations that play nothing but Christmas music, starting on Thanksgiving Day. That’s a helluvalot of Christmas songs every minute of every hour of every day! Funny – I still have trouble finding Christmas music on the day itself.
If you were fond of mixing mediums, there was always the Yule Log on WPIX. The event usually started around 8PM and ended a couple of hours later. As kids, we would crowd around the television screen and watch the logs burn in the cozy little fire place while our favorite classic carols played – songs like White Christmas sung by Bing Crosby, A Christmas Song sung by Nat King Cole, Holly Jolly Christmas sung by Berle Ives, and more. As we got older, we began to notice that the log we were watching never fully burned and the realization hit us that we were actually watching a video loop, but we didn’t care. When the Yule Log was taken off the air, all of us in my household were quite sad – a tradition as old as we were had died. I hear tell that you can still find the Yule Log on some cable television channels or on the internet. Somehow, I just know that watching the Yule Log on my pc just wouldn’t be the same.
If you weren’t watching television or listening to the radio, you were surrounded by heaps of books on the subject. There were the age old classics, such as A Christmas Carol, Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and more. Older generations of readers read short stories like O’Henry’s Gift of the Magi, the unabridged version of A Christmas Carol, The House Without A Christmas Tree, the Gospel of Luke, but they always found themselves rereading the children’s books. The reasoning would be that we were reading the tales to the younger kids, but in actuality, we had the desire to relive the tales ourselves. Reading them aloud made them come alive for us again, despite the age. I still love reading the children’s stories to the children, a grin from ear to ear covering my face as I relive my childhood full of wonderment.
When we weren’t wrapping gifts that we’d bought with saved allowance money and other chore money at the local Woolworth store, we were baking Christmas cookies. Okay, we only made the Christmas sugar cookies one year – the rest of the years were filled with chocolate chip dreaminess that could only be described as Pillsbury Chocolate Chip Cookies. And let’s not forget the brownies we’d bake or the store bought Entenmann’s cupcakes with the holiday sprinkles of red and green and the gummy chuckles shaped like Christmas trees and stockings on the top. Nowadays, there’s usually a lot more baking involved, but I remember the old days with fondness.
Do you remember the phone number kids used to call to learn about how Christmas is celebrated around the world? Every night like clockwork, we’d huddle around the phone and listen to recordings of Santa, Mrs. Claus, or one of the elves tell tales about the holiday. On Christmas Eve, we could call every hour to find out how close Santa was to our homes. I still recall a time when I swore that I had heard the sleigh bells overhead. I recall wondering how Santa was going to get in our house – we had no fireplace, and, although I never remembered seeing one, my mother always swore that we had a chimney he could shimmy down. Wonder what happened to that phone number? I think kids today would still love it as much as we used to.
One of the most magical things about Christmas is how ordinary and sometimes run-down neighborhoods just seem to glow anew amidst the wash of twinkling, glittering lights. I stared in wonderment at the Christmas tree for hours on end with the lights off as a child. When I grew older, I began a tradition of taking my younger sister out to see the neighborhood Christmas displays. However big or small, Christmas light displays have always been a favorite of mine and I have kept the tradition of viewing the neighborhood lights, whether it be with co-workers, friends, family, or by myself.
There are many people who will read this article and scoff at its sentimentality. Some may even be offended by it. Just think of all those people who want their neighbors to take down their outdoor Christmas decorations because they don’t celebrate that holiday. Political correctness, my butt! If thine eye offends thee then pluck it out, because my display on my house is my business. Unless it’s depravedly offensive such as the recent individual who decided that it would be cool to hang Santa Claus from a tree by a noose, what is the problem? Most of the decorations are festive, and have nothing to do with the religious sense of the holiday. And who are you to tell me to take the manger out of my yard when you have a dead jalopy sitting in the middle of yours?
There are Grinches and Scrooges amongst us! We must fight back and keep the spirit of the holiday alive. Even if you don’t celebrate the religious meaning, you can at least understand the spirit behind it. I, for one, celebrate both meanings. I celebrate the gift from God and I celebrate the spirit of Santa Claus. Yes, Virginia, I still believe in Santa Claus. Not the man, but the concept behind the man – the giving of gifts from the heart, expecting nothing in return; the outpouring of love cradled in festive colored paper and hidden beneath the tree; showing love to your fellow man and lending a helping hand if you are able. This is the concept I believe in. Watching someone open a gift I wrapped specially for them and seeing the joy it brings them in just receiving a gift, not even knowing what is inside, brings alive in me a heartwarming feeling that words cannot adequately describe. In recent years, I have taken to collecting gifts for those who are in need. Helping someone in need at this time of year brings about the same warm glow. That’s what this time of year is about – caring for your fellow man whether it be a family member, a friend or a complete stranger. Makes you wish that people would carry out the Christmas spirit every day of the year.
So, if we can’t agree on what holiday to celebrate or what decorations to hang, can we at least agree on celebrating the spirit of the season? Not the commercial spirit – the sentimental, heartwarming, caring spirit that we all know and love. That’s what this time of the year is about. So:
A Joyous Kwanzaa!
Whatever holiday you hold dear in your heart, may it be one filled with joy and love, warmth and good cheer!
A very special thanks to http://www.hellasmultimedia.com/webimages/ for all of the terrific graphic art images used in this story.