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"Ho! Ho! Ho!"

Fondly Remembering Christmas With The Family

By James Donahue

Lest readers think of this writer as the classic Ebenezer Scrooge right out of a Dickens novel, I thought perhaps I should offer some thoughts about some of the fond memories our family shared when our children were small and Christmas was a really cheery holiday at our house.

Indeed, if it wasn’t for the crass commercialization of the holiday, and the extreme gluttony it appears to generate, I would have to say that the mysterious sparks of cheerfulness expressed by the neighbors and friends was always noticed. I used to wonder why we couldn’t extend that same kind of glowing happiness and good will to one another to every day of the year instead of just those few days preceding the big event. And that, of course, was the opening of glittering boxes full of surprise gifts piled under a lighted evergreen tree in our living rooms.

Oh yeah . . . and then there was the Jesus story. Going to church and hearing and even participating in a choral offering of Handel’s classic Messiah, or watching our children struggle with Sunday School students in presentations of The Christmas Story, and walking around town on a snowy night singing Christmas carols, were among the best memories.

After outdoor Christmas lighting became popular, our family always enjoyed a drive around town to admire all of the displays. And the family get-togethers for gift exchanges and Christmas dinner were cherished. Most of the people who came to our house for those events are gone now. Our children are grown and living so far apart that a family Christmas gathering is not easily arranged. Now we converse by telephone and, when it can be arranged, by Skype via our computers.

The problem of anxious children bounding out of bed in the wee hours on Christmas morning to raid the gifts under the tree got to be a problem. We found ourselves stumbling through Christmas Day too tired to enjoy the holiday. To solve this we shifted to opening gifts on Christmas Eve after the children were older and understood the Santa Claus story was a myth. That became a problem because we had a late comer, our youngest daughter Jennifer who was still a believer in the jolly fat man and his magic reindeer. It took some clever planning and trickery to have Santa visit our house on Christmas Eve while the family was still awake, without giving away the truth about Santa.

One Christmas Eve the family was gathering for the gift exchange. Jennifer declared that night that she was going to make sure that she watched and listened so she did not miss Santa Claus when he visited. She refused to leave the Christmas tree, knowing that Santa might arrive at any moment. This was holding up the start of the festivities. What to do? Do we tell her the truth?

One of her cousins managed to lure Jennifer to the second floor so we could quickly carry the wrapped gifts from the trunk of the cars and arrange them under our tree. Then, when the moment was right, my wife’s brother Wayne, the family trickster, produced some genuine cow bells. He went around the house stomping his feet, ringing the bells and shouting in a deep voice the traditional "Ho! Ho! Ho!" We heard Jennifer rushing down the stairs, sure that this time she was going to come face-to-face with Santa Claus. But just as she hit the bottom step the back door slammed. She discovered that she had missed him again! The family had a lot of fun over that incident.

It seemed that Christmas was always the time of the year that we produced our cameras and took family pictures. That was because we were always gathered together and dressed for the occasion. Most of the pictures in the family albums were shot during these happy times.

I remember some joyful moments connected with carrying Christmas fruit and food baskets to the homes of some of the elderly shut-ins and poverty-stricken folks around town. We did this in connection with the church and I was assigned one year to be part of a delegation of gift-givers on behalf of the newspaper I worked for.

Then there was the strange Christmas Eve during my college years, when I was home for the holidays and hooked up with some friends for some serious visits to parties around town. It began when I stopped to visit my brother at his job in a local clothing store. It was about closing time and his boss invited us into the back room for a "nip" of liquor. After that we ended up at his upstairs apartment with various other downtown merchants, all enjoying more "nips." Some of my former high school teachers attended that party. That was the night I discovered that there was more alcohol linked to the Christmas celebration than the traditional spiked eggnog. It was a fun and memorable night, but I discovered that a hangover on Christmas Day was not anything I wanted to do again.

If accepted with the right mindset, and if it involves a gathering of friends and family for fun and good times, Christmas can be a grand holiday. It does not have to be a time of sadness and dispair, even for those who find themselves alone and desperate on that day. It is said that there are more suicides at Christmas than at any other time of the year. Perhaps the expectations are set too high because of all of the bell ringing, glitter in the stores, and television promotions. This is the false front of the holiday. It is the thing that has stirred the so-called "war on Christmas" that becomes a topic among the television talking heads each season. And it is something they, themselves, have helped create.