News, Opinion

Ghosts of Christmas past, present

By STEVE KRAUSE

We are — rather mercifully — reaching the end of another Christmas buildup. Now, relax everybody. I’m not a Christmas hater. I like the holidays. I shop (well, I buy … shop is probably not a word too many people would attach to me).

I get into all the ancillary things that link Christmas to childhood. I like Christmas carols, and have my “collection” that I downloaded a few years ago, and if I must say so, if a song is added to that list, its author or singer should consider it an extreme compliment. I have my “heart of hearts” and for anyone to penetrate it is a significant feat.

We have a tree (artificial, lights included) that we decorate. Years ago, when our son was young, we’d trudge out to some stand somewhere and buy a real one, though we were never the types to go on an excursion to New Hampshire or Maine just to buy one. Donny Woodbury’s stand up at Goodwin’s Circle was always good enough for us.

I suppose I’m like lots of people in that I believe the wonder of Christmas is best seen through the eyes of a child. There’s plenty of room in our lives for reality. We all learn, soon enough, that the real world is something like a battering ram. It’s eventually going to break down your walls, penetrate your defenses, and intrude on your life.

I’ve never been a big fan of “giving it to them straight” when they’re only seven years old. That is an age where the imagination should be allowed to wander as freely as possible, and if that means having a couple of harmless illusions, so be it.

The best memories I have from childhood involve Christmas. We lived a few blocks away from a Methodist church that used to blast Christmas carols from the steeple, much like The Item did from the top of the old building for years. I could easily sit in our den and listen to that instead of the TV.

My mother bought a record when I was still a very small child of Christmas carols, all of them instrumental and intricately orchestrated, by band leader Percy Faith (who — in case you were not aware — made famous a beautifully haunting version of the theme to the movie “A Summer Place”). On it was an incredibly poignant “Silent Night” that — according to my mother — I’d listen to while sitting on the stairs that went up to the second floor of our house. I’d just sit, quietly, and listen.

I still listen to it every December and now that she’s gone, it means even more. Like the songs “Nights in White Satin” and “A Day In The Life,” I have to stop whatever I’m doing when I hear it and just listen. I’ve heard these songs thousands and thousands of times, but it doesn’t matter. I can’t be doing anything. All other activity ceases so I can concentrate.

One of the earliest things I remember about my childhood — and it’s still something we do today — was going out light-peeping. These days, thanks to technology, I can take my phone, with the Christmas carols stored, plug it into the auxiliary jack on my radio, and listen to my tunes while going around looking at the lights. It just adds to the ambiance.

I’m intrigued by the origins of these traditions, too. It doesn’t bother me a bit to find out that the holiest of Christian holidays are based somewhat on pagan rituals, to wit: Christmas the winter solstice and Easter the vernal equinox.

And I’ve always wondered what the correlation was — if there even is one — between Chanukah, and its association with light, and Christmas, where, in most Christian cultures, houses, trees and bushes are lit up to the max.

Regardless of what it is, though, I am gratified that during the darkest time of the year, we have houses lit up and down the street as a counterpoint.

Now if you’ve stayed with me from the first couple of paragraphs, you’ll notice that I’ve gotten almost 600 words into this and not mentioned gifts (except to say I do shop). I love to give, and receive, presents with the best of them. But oddly enough, the older I get, the less it seems to be about me and more it seems to be about us, in the widely collective sense.

I don’t mean to put myself up on a pedestal, but I am blessed beyond belief with people in my life, both family and friends; and outside of a couple of shirts and sweaters I might want to buy, I have everything I could ever want.

If there is any kind of war on Christmas, at least in my mind, the war should be waged against a culture that throws crass materialism and crass consumerism in our faces instead of perhaps focusing on the much-more-elusive themes of, in the spirit of the season, peace on Earth and goodwill toward men.

I’d forego every gift I will get this season and in the future if this were ever to become a reality.

Merry Christmas to all.

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