The bright lights are starting to go out, darn it; and the neighbors just over the crest of the hill to the north already have the carcass of a cast out Christmas tree at the curb. On my side of the hill, the tree in the living room still isn’t quite redecorated after that pre-holiday lighting disaster, however, and I thought seriously yesterday about wrapping the lighted garland around the front steps rail (a chore that didn’t get done) and plugging it in.
That could have been more than the neighbors were prepared to deal with, however, so I took a nap instead. Besides, it was cold --- and I haven’t shoveled the front sidewalk yet.
While running at full speed from before dawn on Dec. 24 until evening Dec. 25, I missed all the best white Christmas photo opportunities. But so it goes.
It really was a living Christmas card here --- just the right amount of snow, no wind, not too cold --- the sort I’m told Californians and Texans dream of. Actually, it looked a lot like last Christmas, but without the undercoating of ice and the fierce wind and cold. The trek around the pond and down the long driveway from Christmas dinner and back into town --- less harrowing this year.
The only snow photo I managed involves the guys from Darrah Garbage Disposal condensing the bags from this half block for pickup on Christmas Eve in the morning. An odd choice, maybe --- but these guys are a gift that just keeps on giving. Doctors, lawyers, dentists and preachers may consider themselves God’s gifts to rest of humanity as the seasons roll around --- but the true gift is a truly efficient refuse removal service. These guys never fail --- always on time, rarely nonplussed by the outrageous piles of stuff we all leave at the curb sometimes. And if my garbage cart happens to be in front of the garage but I’ve forgotten to push it farther --- someone patiently walks up the drive and retrieves the bags still inside it.
We had a beautiful service on Christmas Eve and managed to conclude by singing “Silent Night” in low candlelight without setting either the church or one of us on fire and with only a minimal amount of wax embedded in the carpet runner. Candlelight services always seem like a good idea; occasionally, they turn out to have been one.
And the simple supper afterward was a big hit. Our oldest was there --- now 90; and the youngest, an Epiphany infant named Zander who will turn 1 in a few days (a good deal of time was spent trying to make him laugh; mild amusement was the best anyone could manage). Two of those present looked at each other, started with with “You look familiar --- aren’t you ...?” and then realized that they had graduated from Chariton High School together some 40 years earlier and hadn’t seen each other since. Fortunately, they’d liked each other then, and still did. The tallest among us was a young man who had left his Old Order Amish family and traditions behind some time ago --- and if you know anything about the Amish you’ll know that would be a traumatic and tearing thing to do --- and now is a hired hand for (and surrogate member of) one of our families.
On Christmas Day, the dinner table was surrounded entirely by Democrats. Now that was a gift! We could speculate about the upcoming Republican January jihad under the golden dome in Des Moines and be in total accord.
So it was a good Christmas --- surprising how easy it is to have one of those.
I do realize, since I’m sure we’ve all been there, that there can be barriers --- grief is one, loneliness is another, poverty and war certainly don’t do much to make the spirits light and bright. But for the most part, if we’re ever tempted to be unhappy at Christmas, its seems to be mostly because we’ve shot ourselves in the foot.
I saw the usual “put Christ back in Christmas” bumper stickers and heard the usual grumbling about secularization. But that’s a choice anyone is free to make for themselves --- or not. So why blame someone else? Just see that it doesn’t happen to you or yours if it’s a concern.
I actually read the local newspaper publisher’s Christmas column this year --- such an unhappy man. He was blaming the American Civil Liberties Union this year for ruining it all. From there, he moved into sex education In Chariton and Albia public schools. An odd topic for the season, I thought.
This is the guy who reminds us in print regularly about what a faithful Christian he is (and others aren’t), but the question remains, why is he so consistently distressed? And why does he keep saying those hurtful things about others? If that’s what Christianity is about, who can blame the increasing numbers who want little to do with it, institutionally or otherwise?
And if you happen to be fussing yourself about how secular Christmas has gotten to be, here’s something to keep in mind, too --- Christmas is just beginning; in fact this, the feast day of St. Stephen (hum a few bars of “Good King Wenceslas” here), is just the third day thereof. You’ve got until Epiphany (or in some traditions, Christmastide continues until Candlemas in February) to celebrate.
Although we’ve largely lost track of the fact, the season that has been turned into one long shopping spree and bargain bonanza and that many fuss about isn’t Christmas at all; it’s Advent, historically 40 days of hopeful anticipation of our celebration of the first coming and penitential anticipation of the second --- that inconvenient Christian doctrine that involves the greatest inconvenience of all --- judgment.
So Christmas still is with us, entirely intact, so for heaven’s sake be as happy as circumstances permit. And it’s always possible, too, to keep Christmas in your heart year-around and let it shine out now and then.
Wish I were better at that. Maybe I’ll dust off that garland hanging in the garage, see if the lights still work and wrap it round the front rail anyway. At least it’ll give the neighbors something to talk about.