“Real” Frustrating

I can only think of maybe two years of my childhood where we had a real Christmas tree. Real trees are, without a doubt, the most beautiful, traditional and aromatic seasonal centerpiece to a home’s decor during the holidays. For some reason, those Christmases as a child seemed extra magical, perhaps because it was something we hadn’t experienced before. My wife was raised with “real” Christmas trees, so it seemed very noble to revive the Rockwellian tradition of choosing a tree, strapping it to the roof of the car, “planting” it in the living room, and trimming it all while sipping hot cider to the crooning of Bing Crosby’s “Oh Christmas Tree”. Little did I know, beginning this tradition turned our first six Christmases into a marriage-building exercise.

Maybe my inexperience in choosing real trees was the reason for the frustration we faced nearly every year. One year we picked out a beautiful seven foot pine – only to have it stand five feet tall after having to trim the trunk so it could be erected straight in the tree stand. Another year we had our tree last about three days before it shed nearly all of its needles onto the floor, with our decorations barely clinging to the wooden skeleton. One year our tree’s trunk was so large it split, unknown to us, the plastic tree stand. Every time we watered the tree, we were also watering the carpet, the presents and, later, our antique hardwood floors (we found this out just a few years ago when we pulled the carpet up).

Seven years ago, just a few weeks before Christmas, we picked out our first artificial tree. It’s a decision neither one of us has regretted. It always stands straight and tall, never needs watering, doesn’t shed a bit and the best part of all – it looks real. In fact, if we scrub the floors with Pine Sol you’d swear it was. I know there are a lot out there that lambaste the idea of a “fake” Christmas tree, but for us it is truly Peace on Earth!

A “Mean” Santa?

It’s surprising that not everyone’s childhood recollection of Santa Claus is that of a jovial plump elf. Apparently some remember the patron saint of Christmas to be an old curmudgeonly prig who teased the children with bags of stockpiled goodies. If a child reached for a bagful of the sweet temptations, Santa would sting the eager young hand with his switch. That impression of Santa Claus would likely leave children frightened to thoughts of poisoning the milk and cookies or keeping the fireplace roaring all night in an effort to “off” the chubby fellow during his visit on Christmas Eve.

I remember the annual tradition of waiting for Santa to arrive by train (apparently it was safer than flying) into the pivotal Christmas hub of Mandan. Once the “Polar Express” braked to a halt, he jumped off the caboose, shook hands with hundreds of freezing children and then summoned his red-and-green-clad army of helpers to methodically dispense the traditional brown sandwich bag of goodies. My memory of Santa was far more favorable but I’m afraid his paper sack offering on Christmas Eve morning did nothing to improve my attitude toward unsalted, unshelled peanuts, candy canes, bruised, mealy apples or ribbon hard candy.

‘Tis better to give…

We’ve heard the saying a trillion times and we know what it means, but the emphasis today seems to be more about receiving – not giving. For the past several years we’ve really tried to stress the importance of giving at Christmas-time to our boys. There are so many that have far less than we do and it would take very little to improve their Christmas. Every year they help buy gifts for children they don’t know, and I know they try really hard to get the lesson but sometimes I think witnessing the actual transaction would make more of a difference for them. I like Mr. Kurt Warner’s (Cardinal’s QB) idea – whenever he dines out with his family, he chooses one family and anonymously pays their tab. I think being able to witness an act of abundant generosity and the feeling that accompanies it would be a powerful lesson in giving.

Plight of the Gingerbread Men

gingerbread_card

Christmas goodies! Everybody loves ’em, nobody really needs ’em but the holidays just wouldn’t be the same without them. Here’s to mothers everywhere who bake enough homemade favorites to feed a small township. Exaggeration? Hardly. I know moms who had to resort to stashing baked goods on the upper shelves of the garage until Christmas.

Sharing the Joy

Advent is in full swing and many of us are going through the annual rituals to prepare for Christmas. I hope everyone has the opportunity to take the time this year to really focus on what Christmas is about and the joy it brings. Share that joy with others this year and you just might change someone else’s Christmas. Like the Grinch himself discovered, “Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas… perhaps… means a little bit more!”

Preparation

Well, it’s December and it still doesn’t quite feel like the season yet (that could change today). My Midwestern upbringing has always assimilated snow with Christmas. I do remember a few “brown Christmases” but traditionally we’ve been pushing snow as early as Halloween. Admittedly the weather this year has been unusual all around and I’m grateful for the extended fall we’ve had. I’m certainly not wishing for the record snowfalls we had last year but I am dreaming of a white Christmas. The lights are strung, the tree is up, the halls are decked… and the shovels are ready!

Time for a New Tradition

Well, today’s the big day. Will this year’s receipt totals prove that our economy is finally on the mend? Personally, I don’t partake in the consumerist hysteria surrounding Black Friday. Yes, I realize there are great deals out there. Yes, I know that shopping is synonomous with the holiday season. No, I’m not against capitalism. I just don’t get supercharged about rising hours before the sun to feed the gluttonous idea of a materialistic Christmas. It seems that every year, the lists are longer, the budgets more bloated and still nobody’s any happier than they were the year before. In the process people simply end up over-extending themselves financially (isn’t that what kicked off our recession troubles to begin with?). Knowing full well that we don’t really need anything (or have the space to put any of it) we’ve decided to spend half of what we did on Christmas last year and give the other half to a local charity. I don’t know that it will be a huge hit with our kids, but I think there’s a valuable lesson to be learned. Besides, I kind of thought Uncle Sam needed to lose a few pounds anyway, so I’m really not seeing the need for a big piece of cake.