With Christmas drawing near it naturally evokes many feelings and emotions in those of us who have seen a few of them come and go. In my case, more than a few.
Christmas, I think, is lived in stages in the hearts of we humans.
We begin as children, with the mystery of Santa Claus. No matter what religious persuasion to which you belong, Santa fits. He’s the epitome of unselfish giving. The uncanny being who can somehow make it around the world in only one night in order to pass out gifts to “good little girls and boys”. His existence alone during the first few years of my life, kept me from committing many awful offenses.
I solidly believed in him. I revered Christmas. Of course, being raised Southern Baptist, I also knew the story of Jesus’s birth in every different gospel version. By the time I was eight, I knew every Christmas gym in the hymnal by heart. I memorized the entire Baptist hymnal by the time I was 12, and still don’t need a book for 99% of the songs if they do the first, second and last stanzas)
But Santa was my hero, and Christmas was my big day. I kept a handmade calendar, which I drew on notebook paper, using a ruler in order to keep the lines straight, just so I could X out the days one by one starting the day after Christmas every year. I kept a calendar even after I knew there wasn’t a Santa, just because I found it reassuring to be able to visually see the days, and be able to make notes on special occasions. For many years after I got out of school, I still had those calendars, along with my genealogy charts that I had compiled with information gleaned from my Grandparents and my Great Grandma Locklear. There was some invaluable information that was lost forever when I misplaced the big, huge notebook that contained all that hard work. I still hold out hope that I’ll be going through some long packed up box someday and find that book. They might possibly still be in the attic of the old house on ninth street if somebody hasn’t thrown them away. Wonder if they’d let me in to look?
I remember quite a few Christmas Eve nights spent at my Moms’s parents house in Blue Ridge. Cold, cold nights sleeping upstairs under piles of quilts so tall, that turning over was almost impossible. You see, Grandpa Stewart only had an old pot bellied stove back then, which was a wood burning hog. He shut the air flow down at night and there was no heat at all upstairs. By midnight you could see your breath on those frigid December mornings. By six a.m., the cold had penetrated those six quilts, and as soon as I heard grandpa’s feet hit the floor, and hear the old heater start to go swoosh with heat, I was gone! Besides, it was Christmas morning! I had heard Santa downstairs during the pitch black night going “ho, ho, ho” and I wanted to see what he’d left me.
Those were the younger years, the magical years before I knew the “secret” of Santa, and became a part of Santa myself. Those were the years of the Lionel train set when I was 8….one of the few years we didn’t go to Blue Ridge, and the only year I can remember as a child when my Mom woke me up to say “look out the window, there’s snow”. There was. Those were the years before Mom got sick, before the mental illness which would haunt her the rest of her life, embedded it’s claws into her.
The years before that one had been wonderful Christmases too. I remember the set of Hoppalong Cassidy cap guns, and his replica outfits. I remember the red Radio flyer wagon, which I hauled rocks, dirt, dogs and toys in until it literally rusted through. I remember marbles in drawstring bags, matchbox cars, and tootsie toy trucks. I remember a bow and arrow set with rubber stoppers on the ends of the arrows. Then there were the comic books….usually Superman and Uncle Scrooge. I was a lucky little boy those first eight magical years.
After the first nervous breakdown Mom had when I was a fourth grader, Christmases were fraught for a few years. By the time “normality” returned, I was twelve years old. I looked at a photo of myself the other day from the sixth grade. I was on the end of one row, and had a sad, hollow look in my eyes. As I moved on through the next couple of years, and across the street to the High School, Christmas took on new meaning and understanding.
I had left behind the mysterys of Santa Claus by the time I was an eighth grader. I knew years before that about the secret. Santa Claus only existed as the spirit of Christmas. He was the joy of children, provided by the largess of the familie’s grown ups. I don’t remember exactly what day, or the exact hour I stopped believing that Santa Claus was a real person. I just remember it being a sad day. A day of disappointment. A day of numbness. How could such a thing actually be true?
I think during my High School years I actually became more affectionate of the holidays, and of Christmas. After I got over my initial disappointment at there being no “real” Santa, I began to realize that those of us who knew Santa’s secret actually became Santa ourselves, for those who still did believe. I remember thinking how I would never want to disappointment a child who still believed.
When I grew up and married, and had kids of my own, I wanted to always make sure that Christmas was a most special time of the year for them. I tried every year to make them happy, and to make my wife happy. Perhaps I went overboard on the gift giving at some points, but I didn’t care. My philosophy has always been to make the ones you love happy while you can, because you’ll never know when the day comes that you won’t have that chance.
As the Kathy Mattea song says:
… “Time passes by, people pass on
At the drop of a tear, they’re gone
Let’s do what we dare, do what we like
And love while we’re here before time passes by…”
Its never more important than it is right now, today, this year….to let people know how you feel. Let the child in you who once believed in Santa Claus take over. Approach life one more time with that innocence and awe, which made you believe in Magic
The magic is still there in most of us….I can’t say all, because I believe the joy of life and love are absent for some people, and that’s beyond sad. Some vessels are empty, and some are corrupted . I feel sadness for those people, I hope they are not beyond redemption.
For this year, this year 2018…I wish all of you my friends and family, a very Merry and Magical Christmas.
…”but Jacob,” said Scrooge “you were always a good businessman.”
“Mankind was my business!” Said Marley.
And so it remains. Mankind is the business we should all be worrying about. Who doesn’t have enough to eat, or four walls to surround them? Who is down and out, and needs help? Who is hurting, either physically or mentally….financially or spiritually?
As my son reminded me once a few years ago, I only gave a single dollar to a well dressed man in downtown Chattanooga who said he was homeless. But, he did turn down my offer to buy him a meal at the Maple Street biscuit company….said he’d already eaten. And those biscuits are ‘spensive. I did, however, wish him “Merry Christmas” as I handed him that dollar. He put it in his suit pocket and said “thank you” Then I went out the next day and gave 20 dollar tips to the three young ladies who have taken turns waiting on us at Jim’s over the past year.
I consider mankind my business, oh so much more than most. And not just at Christmas either. I take Charles Dicken’s lesson to heart. Oh, I’m far, far from perfect, and I will never be mistaken for a philanthropist. I’ll muddle through by doing what little I can for my family, my friends, and those whose lives intersect with mine. I want to thank all of my family and friends, and the people around me for all the kind things they do for me. It’s mutual, and it’s a balance.
Merry Christmas if I fail to see you, or if I forget to say it again in the next few days. Merry Christmas and a Happy New year.
Chapter three – the longest night
I had a walk yesterday and timed it to end at 6:03 p.m., which is/was sunset for the day. I wanted to do this because I had read where scientists said that yesterday was going to be one of the longest nights in the entire history of the planet. Yep, that’s right. At first they were saying it was going to be THE longest night ever, but then they decided that it was sometime back in 1912 in which that happened. But last night was a very long, dark span. I slept deeply and much longer than usual. I had unusual and vivid dreams. Perhaps it was because my legs were like lead weights as I walked yesterday, or maybe it was just my imagination. That aspect of my personality doe run wild every now and then.
In some respects it was really kind of eerie. It was as silent as I can remember with the exception of a few dogs barking off in the distance. I closed my eyes as I walked down the long straight away next to the railroad track, almost an entire quarter of a mile, and tried to imagine how our distant ancestors must have felt in this season of the year. Sitting in a cave or at a rock overhang, with a tiny fire as the only heat and light. Straw as a bed, and perhaps a fur or two as cover. Hungry from not having enough to eat that day. Howls and growls of animals drifting in through the opening of their abode. A lot of them who would have considered us as prey. It’s amazing to me that our species is so tough. It’s remarkable to me that humans made it through that primitive phase.
We have survived all of that to get to this point. Now we are divided by religion and politics, along with race and class. These are the most divisive issues in our world today. Maybe there are some other “minor” issues, but these are the ones which continue to rear their ugly head. These are the ones which people are warring and dying over by the thousands every day. These are the issues fueled by the two “children” beneath the robe of the “Ghost of Christmas Present” in Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” He tells Ebenezer Scrooge:
“They are your children! They are the children of all who walk the earth unseen! Their boy’s name is Ignorance and the girl is Want! Beware of them! For upon their brow is written the word “doom!” They spell the downfall of you and all who deny their existence! But most of all beware this boy“
Ignorance and want combined with all of the divisive issues, but most of all ignorance.
We no longer sit in the dark in the caves and fear that we will become the prey of fierce animals. We ARE the fierce animals and we now prey on each other.
As we head into the Christmas Season after one of the longest nights in the history of the Earth, I wish some type of unknowable magic could be worked in the middle of one of these long Winter sleeps, and we would wake up at dawn as creatures of total love and peace….Peace on Earth, and true Goodwill to all men and women.