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Archive for December, 2010

For several weeks, I have run into people…all of them, I believe, well-intentioned…who say, “Are you done?  Are you ready?”  I have tried not to cast the hairy eyeball at them, much less smack them, and mostly, I’ve succeeded.  But each time I hear those questions I think, “Are you out of your mind?  Done?  I have barely started.  And I hardly know where to begin, now that you mention it!”

Since I became an adult, I have mostly felt like Christmas should come in February, which is when I’ll be ready for it.  December 25th is just too fast, too rushed, too hard on the heels of Thanksgiving and autumnal celebrations.  On the other hand, it’s a time of “perpetual anticipation,’ given that more and more retailers start parading out the Christmas merchandise in October in order to make as much money as possible on holiday sales…so that by the time December 25th comes around, I’ve heard so many versions of “White Christmas” I want to gag.

To amuse myself in this season, I have told my husband that I really DO want a Chia-pet (the number One tacky Christmas gift of the season, in my book), I yearn to hear the Barking Dogs do their version of “Jingle Bells,” and I have to make time to play several rounds of my favorite computer game, “Elf Bowling,” which feature very cheeky Christmas Elves, on strike at the North Pole for higher wages, picketing and asking Santa, “Who’s your daddy?”

Lest you think that I’ve been captured by the Grinch, however, let me assure you that these are all the surface behaviors and observations that are underneath my more heartfelt observations about the Christmas season.

My younger daughter has always deeply loved Christmas, and this year was on a quest to find the ‘real’ meaning of the holiday.  We had seen the new Harry Potter movie and she was touched by the scene in which Harry, Hermione and Ron find themselves in a quaint village on Christmas Eve as the snow falls softly around them.  My daughter, touched by the vision, wondered where such experiences could be found.  We went off to Old Sturbridge Village, to their “Christmas by Candlelight” celebration, and walked through the old 1830’s-era community, lit with lanterns, a large bonfire burning on the town green to “drive the dark away.”  We saw traditional gingerbread and fruitcake-making, heard a recitation of “A Visit From Saint Nicholas” in the old Friends Meetinghouse, watched Dickensian-era dancing in the barn, ate dinner in the tavern, and watched the horse-drawn wagon carry people down the streets.  It was lovely.

We went to The Christmas Revels, a beloved family tradition that this year celebrates its 40th anniversary.  My daughter leaned gently onto my shoulder as we watched the mysterious and wonderful Abbots Bromley Horn Dance — which is our favorite moment in the Revels show — following the dancers creeping out in the dark with deer antlers held high.  We got a little teary as we sang “The Sussex Mummers Carol” at the end of the show, as snow flew through Sanders Hall and onto the revelers.

I watched with amazement as my husband cut a wood block print for our Christmas card, printed the design, and then hand-painted each card, as he has done for decades.  I am not the artist in the family by a long shot, but I got to paint the gold star at the top of the tree — just enough participation for me to feel connected to this lovely handmade art project.  And, here at home, we marked the shortest day with evergreens banked on the mantle and table, decorated with homemade pomander balls and apples that hold votive candles.

In this season, while there have been truly awful stories about break-ins at storage units housing toys for disadvantaged children and thieves stealing the copper off of the footprints in back of (former Boston mayor) Kevin White’s statue, there have also been the perhaps-predictable number of great stories of folks digging deep to help families who have no way to provide even a modest gift for their children, people who have lost their homes, people who have no resources at all. Even in a down economy, with many challenges facing those near and far, there are signs of possibility, like the bulbs that lie sleeping under the snow, waiting to rise again.

It is a time of waiting and of wonder…for the snow to fall just before Christmas, for the return of light to this frozen part of the world, for hope to be born again.  It is nearly Christmas.  I have baked and filled bags and baskets with the work of my hands and heart. In this holiday season, may you take joy from the little things that aren’t bought, but given as gifts from the soul.  For when we open ourselves to all the gifts of friendship and generosity that come from within, the long period of anticipation revels the true promise  of Christmas, offered in abundance.

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The holidays bring with them anticipation, excitement, expectation.  Already this year, I’ve heard from several people who are trying to figure out how to fulfill the wishes of their children, some of whom have gone hunting for their Christmas presents.  There are economic concerns, dreams that just once, at Christmas, everything could be ‘perfect,’ and the heightened hopes of those we love — all wrapped up in one, big, emotion-filled package.

And so, as a gift to all those who wonder if all can be fulfilled, and as a reminder to all of us about the qualities and values that are the most important at this time of year, I hand over this space to my husband, Ben Soule, who shares his recollections of “Putting on the Suit” at Christmas time.  Ben wrote this piece four years ago, but what he and I have found, miraculously, is that our daughter continues to call him to “put on the suit.”  The deeply felt correspondence with Santa has continued, just as the cookies and eggnog continue to be placed carefully on the table near the fireplace in the living room.  Some traditions are meant to endure, beyond reason, logic, or what we ‘know’ to be true.  And a good thing it is — for faith plays a big part in what makes Christmas the treasured holiday it is.

Enjoy.

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My wife and I always say that parenting is a process of letting go.  Most days you don’t notice, but there are moments when you realize your life has just taken a sudden irreversible turn.  What I had forgotten is that the same lurches come to our children.

Christmas in our house is a bustle of baking cookies, caroling with friends, going to church, making gifts and cards, buying presents, and spending time with family.  For twelve beautiful years, our younger daughter added her own piece: an unswerving belief in Santa Claus.  Most of her friends had already given it up, but we decided that we would do our best to support it as long as she continued to hold fast to her belief.  We found a way to answer her direct questions positively and honestly.  We wrapped the Santa presents in different paper, and each Christmas Eve, when she wrote an earnest note to Santa, we prayed that her list would overlap with what was hidden away in the basement.

Late on Christmas Eve, when all the presents were wrapped and under the tree, I would sit next to the tray of eggnog and Christmas cookies she had lovingly put out, with paper and pencil in hand, and close my eyes.

I once told my wife it was like “putting on the Santa suit.”  I tried to meet my daughter in her own reality.  It was a beautiful and difficult place to which she led me, and there, I became for a few moments a better person, floating a little bit above my fears and my faults.  Then I would write to her, using a neat backward-slanting script, and try to say something that would encourage her better qualities. I’d mention the reindeer, thank her for the snack, wish her a merry Christmas, and sign off – “S. Claus.”

Last year was different, however, and when she wrote her note to Santa, along with the doll accessories she requested an iPod – she was twelve after all.  Fortunately, she had dropped enough hints so that Santa was able to produce the requested item on Christmas morning.  As the day went along, however, she made it clear that she had been hoping for a better model –one that my wife and I had discussed but rejected as being too expensive for a sixth-grader.  We told her we’d talk it over.

Two days later, over breakfast, she called the question.  My wife and I had already decided to do the upgrade, which would come with a talk about caring for one’s belongings.  However, somewhere in the ensuing conversation, we slipped.  We were making a present from Santa conditional upon parental restrictions, and we didn’t notice the trap until we were in it.  One of us asked her an unguarded question, which, if she answered truthfully, would acknowledge Santa’s non-existence.  There was a small nod, a whispered “yeah.”  The last gossamer wisp of the veil that had protected her faith softly fell, and she was face to face with the bleak reality.  She collapsed in tears.  “I’m such an idiot,” she sobbed. “I really wanted to believe.” My wife held her, but I was blinded by a sudden realization – that next Christmas Eve my daughter would not lead me to that beautiful and difficult place where her faith in the impossible could lift me up and for a brief moment transform me.  My own tears stung my eyes.

Over time my daughter will learn for herself that the joys of Christmas can be found in many places – in making gifts and baking cookies, singing carols and sharing love with family and friends, in bringing magic to children, in helping those less fortunate than she.  She will learn that believing in Santa is an act of faith and love, not idiocy.  And starting this year I will have to relearn those things too.  But I will miss putting on the suit.

— Ben Soule

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