Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Ahhh, Christmas

My favorite holiday is independence Day. However, Christmas ranks with the tops too. There was a time that I didn't really care for Christmas. I allowed the commercialism of the holiday to cloud the real reason for the season. I was sickened by the stores and the TV ads and the message of Christmas being largely obscured. I now know, that Christmas can be to me what Christmas is supposed to be and still be just a 2 month commercial to others.

I read a very interesting article before Christmas. It was about just that, the commercialism of Christmas. This was part of it:
"There are worlds of money wasted, at this time of year, in getting things that nobody wants, and nobody cares for after they are got." That was written by Harriet Beecher Stowe in 1850

In his book "The Battle for Christmas," Stephen Nissenbaum puts that myth to rest by tracing the history of the holiday from colonial New England to the turn of the 20th century.

December was an important month because of it's cold weather. Refrigeration was not available, so December was the time when fresh meat was available in months. But most importantly, December meant beer. By mid-month, whatever grain surplus their hard summer's labor had produced would have been fully fermented and ready to drink.

In the northern Europe of the late middle ages, gangs of young men would engage in "wassailing," a cross between Christmas carolling and home invasion. The gangs would visit wealthy homes, often in disguise, and sing songs that threatened violence if they were not invited in for food and drink. "Here we go a carolling."

But with the arrival of the Industrial Revolution, factory owners didn't want their employees wandering off for weeks of drunken merriment. During the 1820s, after a series of particularly raucous holiday seasons in New York, the city's elite began campaigning for a more restrained, domestic Christmas. Central to that campaign was the tradition of purchasing gifts, especially for children.

Nissenbaum states, "Perhaps that's the biggest difference between Christmas present and Christmas past. A holiday that began in ancient times as a debauched escape from everyday chores has become exactly the opposite - a frenzied season full of expectations, obligations and stress."

Merry Christmas.

We gathered, as usual, at Mom and Dad's house. My daughters were all sick and couldn't come. That reduced the number by 11. Still there were over 40 people there. There was food and drink. There was holiday cheer. There was catching up with family. There was a great time. And yes, there were gifts.

We do this: We gather in rather haphazardly even though we are given a time to arrive. It is more a suggestion than a rule. Close to a predetermined time, we begin the Christmas dinner. There is turkey and ham and various other holiday trimmings brought by families. The food is delicious and the fellowship is even more so. Old memories are rehashed and new memories are created.

After the meal, we all gather in the living room, where, this year, my niece Jenny and her husband Jerome sang as song. Then Jenny sang "Holy Night," with everyone joining in on the final chorus. After that, Mom calls home (her family in Germany) and we all scream 'Merry Christmas' to them. Mom and I sing 'Silent Night' in German. Then we all sing a chorus of it. My oldest sister Barbara reads the Bible story of the birth of Christ. I read whatever I have written for the season (it follows this story) and then I lead us in prayer.

After that, the presents are dispersed by my brother and I, one at a time, with each recipient opening their gift, before the next is given. The little children all wait anxiously to hear their name called. Once all the gifts are given, there is more time to fellowship with family. This year, we were there about 6 hours.

We came home, sat on the couch, and watched 'Miracle on 34th Street' with the family. Tammy and the kids had never seen it. They loved it.

Christmas day, we got up and opened the gifts here at the house. Later that day, we went to my middle daughter's house where 25 or so gathered for dinner and gifts. It was a great time.

Here is what I shared with my family:

My 50th Christmas

I can't recall my first Christmas, although I can see the pictures of it in old albums. Come to think of it, I can't remember a lot of the Christmases I have celebrated. I remember snippets of many of them.

When I do think about them, I don't really remember the presents, with some noteworthy exceptions. I recall the year Kevin got dumbbells as a gift, and Richard said, "dumbbells for a dumbbell." Then when Richard opened his gift, it was dumbbells and sometimes payback is immediate.

I recall there were various wrapping paper wars, with Mom always telling us at the start that there would be no wrapping paper war. But, seriously guys, this year, no wrapping paper war. Seriously.

I recall the year Richard got his car. All that was wrapped was the key and Dad made sure it was the last present given. It was parked in the lot of the church across the street on Old Frankfort Pike.

I remember the year I knew I was getting a wok, and saying as I picked it up, "I wonder wok this is."

I remember how we started growing once Barbara got married and how we haven't stopped yet. Welcome Abigail Kennedy Lewis.

The presents over the years have mostly been forgotten. I can't remember every shirt or pair of pants. I do still have and use the wok. I do still have and use the electric grill. Richard's car is long gone.

There is something that remains to this day, from every one of those celebrations. That something stays, in spite of our differences, in spite of our disagreements, in spite of faulty memories. That something is the reason I have an insurmountable debt. That something is the gift all of you have given to me, every year, year after year. Every year it grows. Every year it gets more valuable. It is more precious than gold. It is more costly than diamonds or rubies.

From my heart, I want to thank you all for marvelous gift of family. Thank you to every brother and every sister. Thank you to every niece and nephew. Thank you to every son and daughter. Thank you to all the grandsons, granddaughters, grandnieces, and grand nephews. Thank you, Dad. Thank you, Mom.

All the good fortune in the world is wasted, without a family with which to share it. You have multiplied my joys and divided my sorrows. Because of you, when I have stood, I have never stood alone.

This 50th Christmas, I welcome you to add another heaping helping to my insurmountable debt.

Merry Christmas to us all.

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