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Sunday, December 18, 2005

Christmastime is here!

Having grown up in Ohio, I don’t think I will ever completely lose the need for cold weather to get into the Christmas spirit. The chill triggers a sense memory that immediately takes me back to New London. As winter deepened, we all became more aware of our surroundings. The bicycle was put away, after hundreds of miles of Summer riding and we walked more carefully, always watching for the small patches of ice that would suddenly put you into “the splits” or straight onto your backside before you even know what had happened.

Thankfully, this year, Joseph, my son, became interested in ice-skating. Even on the warmest days of summer, I found myself wearing coat, hat and scarf, shivering against the cold. Now, at Christmastime, this has been even more welcome. The cold, even if artificial, triggers the winter feelings and reminds me once again that it is Christmas.

Of course, like everyone else, life doesn’t stop simply because of the holidays. Childhood is blissfully free of worries about mortgage payments, work schedules and other stresses. As children we could simply “be” the holiday season – enjoy its special pleasures – without too many concerns. Today, though, I find myself engaged, then disengaged. The school Christmas program envelopes me in song and the joyful abandon of young voices, then the phone calls, email and other projects drag me, kicking and screaming, back into the “real” world. I drive slowly through the neighborhood, looking at all the lights, then barely avoid a crash when someone runs a stop sign.

So, I find myself snapping in and out of the season, trying to catch a ribbon of the joy that is there. Back in my hometown at this time of year, the Rotary Club would be installing the small, decorated shack on the Main Street corner where Santa (portrayed by the boys from the Senior Class) would hold court. They would greet the children and pass out candy canes, listening to Christmas wishes within easy earshot of interested parents. The nearest mall was 35 miles away, so the local hardware stores would open their Christmas boutiques, supplementing their more utilitarian wares with decorations, toys and presents a young child could buy for their parents. In a town of 2000 people in 1976, you could let your kids run free to do their Christmas shopping, returning with whatever their Christmas allowance could afford for family and friends.

When I was a teenager, I spent most Christmas Eves in the Methodist Church, the one that also housed the town clock in its bell tower, and chimed out Christmas carols several times a day. There I would perform as part of a brass choir made up of volunteers from the local high school band. I always enjoyed the joyful sound of the horns as the choir made a dramatic entrance from the rear of church, everyone joining in “O’ Come, All Ye Faithful.” As the Methodist service would conclude at midnight, the Catholic kids in the group would quickly dart out the back, dash along an icy sidewalk and into the doors of the Catholic Church which adjoined the Methodist. I would make my way home to find everyone else asleep, the twinkling lights on the Christmas tree my nightlight, as I got ready for bed.

More pictures from Christmas 2004

Last year, I was able to take my son back to Ohio for a traditional Christmas. For the first time in years, my 4 siblings and I joined my parents back in the same house where we all grew up. That year, though, the small house was full to bursting with married couples and many grandchildren. There was a certain joy on my parents face as they sat watching us decorate the tree. There was pride, of course, but I also saw in their faces all the Christmases that have passed. Visions of us sitting on the floor with the “A Chipmunks Christmas” on the portable record player – the fake cardboard fireplace that adorned the longest wall in the living room – the squeals of delight as we tore open our presents.

Earlier in the day, my wife, my son and I had trudged through thigh-deep snow in a neighbor’s field to select, cut and drag home the Christmas tree. We eventually got it back to the house, cold, wet and tired, but laughing at our adventure. We had almost 5 feet of snow in the time we were there and Joseph got to experience a particularly special Christmas – one that I might have enjoyed in my own childhood.

I hope that the season finds you and your family well and that this Christmas retains a bit of the magic of the past. We make new memories each year, but these memories are usually based, in part, on those Christmases that have come before.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!


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