Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Best Part of Christmas

Alright. So the holidays are fast approaching and no amount of denial can alter that fact. It's inevitable that the next few weeks will include a number of tasks which require attention, no matter where you live or what demands are made on your time.

First, there is some type of gift giving on which to focus. Whether your family is large or small, where you are still in the workplace or retired, chances are there is at least some gift shopping to be done. So best to start reviewing the avalanche of advertising to see what might make a good gift for the people on your list. Just because an item is the "current favorite" for this year does not make it a logical or even desirable choice. Have someone on your list who is a bona fide techno-phobe who hates and avoids electronics? Doesn't sound like a tablet, sophisticated phone or other gadget would be a good fit. Your gift recipient can't cook and barely knows how to find the kitchen?   Perhaps cookware or kitchen gadgetry would not be an ideal selection.

Home decoration is a big event. Neighbors of mine have had their trees up for many weeks already, some from before Thanksgiving. Usually this rush to decorate is fueled by youngsters who are anxious to begin the Yuletide countdown. But anyone who still gets a real tree -- like me -- can appreciate that a live tree isn't going to be too pretty after a couple of weeks. There is something nice about going to a tree farm, selecting a tree, having it cut down, and hauling it home. The tree is real. It's fresh and the growers are conscientious about growing more to replace this year's crop. That part of decorating is lost when a "fake" tree is purchased, its manufactured limbs installed and later when it is hauled into the basement/attic until next year. Having a real tree is one thing I'm not willing to change.

Cards are part of Christmas, to be sure. Last year I waited too late to find boxed cards. Apparently enough people are no longer sending purchased cards that stores carry a smaller number of choices each year. Cards of any type include the preparation of a list, the writing of a line or two and perhaps the enclosure of a festive photo. Sending cards takes a certain amount of organization and focus and must include built-in time to get the cards to their destination.

During my working years, there was often the awkwardness of the office party. Would there be one? Was there anything to celebrate each year with co-workers I could barely tolerate? Could I concoct an airtight excuse not to go? Parties varied from one year to the next, one location to another, some of which were far more enticing. I had always wanted to see inside Mr. X's house or something along those lines. Some parties I simply avoided. The mixture of alcohol and people you sincerely dislike can be dangerous and career-limiting. Know your limits.

Fortunately only a couple of places I ever worked had a "secret Santa" routine, a rather silly attempt to get a gift for someone without them knowing the name of the giver. This might be enchanting in fourth grade, but in the adult workaday world, it's all rather unnecessary.

When I was a teacher, I used to get about 25 little gifts each year from the students. Many were forced onto the kid by moms who thought it was a good idea. On behalf of the teachers who continue to scoop up ornaments or desktop decorations every year, please be advised that most teachers truly dislike this sort of thing. Most of the time, the money spent on an unwanted gift would be better off deposited into the Salvation Army kettle for use elsewhere. Teachers are somewhat annoyed by the entire gesture. Also, students are often embarrassed at having to deliver some item that was not picked out by them.

Then there is the line of thought that we should remember and bestow a gift upon everyone in our vicinity. Years ago we used to bake cookies and deliver them to neighbors. But neighbors move and change, some now have dietary restrictions and others feel they must reciprocate. The mailman does not get a gift from me. Neither does the paper delivery fellow, although I tip him with each payment. It all gets a little tedious.

Traditions vary by geographical location, age group and other criteria, but there is still a tremendous amount of energy required to get everything on the list accomplished. Perhaps the best part is when we reach the point where we have done all the holiday prep that we are going to do. Then we can sit back, sip some tea and watch some classic Yuletide movie on TV.

That just may be the best part of Christmas.






  1. Remember Steve McQueen in The Great Escape? He played a fictional character Hilts, the Cooler King, breaking out of POW camp. But the real-life Cooler King, Texan Bill Ash, celebrates his 95th birthday this month [DEC 2012] with the publication of the first US paperback of his autobiography Under the Wire.
    Ash went from hobo to hero as he rode the rails to Canada and became a Spitfire pilot at the outbreak of WWII. Shot down over France, he became a legendary escape artist, staging a dozen break-outs from POW camps all over Europe. He’s a big fan of the movie The Great Escape. “The only trouble was, in the real world there was never a motorcycle around when you needed one.”
    Under the Wire by William Ash is available on print or e-book from Amazon

  2. PS - forgot to add on your comments about local yuletide traditions, in the UK families huddling around the TV in their post-turkey coma always watch The Great Escape, much as It's A Wonderful Life is a yuletide movie in the US. I've no idea why it became a Christmas movie!