“Giving”

A few years ago, I wrote a short Christmas story in which (nutshell version) fifteen-year-old Al Fischer spends the holiday enthusiastically telling his family everything he loves about the Christmas season.

By purist coincidence (or not…), Al and his author have similar ideas about Christmas. And he’ll be pleased to know that I’ve decided to commemorate our mutual obsession here on Ever On Word by dedicating a series of blog posts to The Top 10 Reasons Christmas Rocks My World.

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#6: Gifts (Giving Them)

            An adult’s pronouncement that “‘tis more blessed to give than to receive” will often be met with skepticism on the part of the average child. Part of this may have to do with the rarity of words like “‘tis”, anymore (one good reason of many to preserve old seasonal standards like “Deck the Halls”), but it will be mostly due to the counterintuitive nature of such a concept. “Suggesting that ‘to make a present’ of something for another at my own expense would make me happier than being handed a gift, free of charge – are you insane?!” Average Child cries, appalled.

            Granted, on the surface, it may sound crazy. Average or not, I know Child Danielle didn’t get it. Giving people things was all very nice of me, I supposed, but it wasn’t nearly as much fun as getting. Little did I know that giving can be a twofer: Giving and getting, too.

            Even Older, Wiser, and Prettier Danielle doesn’t give a lot of Christmas presents. It’s not because I don’t enjoy giving, because I absolutely do – but not because I’m “supposed” to. I don’t want to get some long list of people presents just because it’s a present-giving day; I want to be minding my business in the store, see some item on the shelf/rack/whatever, think “So-and-so would adore that”, and get it for them so they can have a grand surprise. I like to give gifts that I know the recipients will find meaningful and special and in some way perfect. And I really, really like to give gifts I’ve made myself.

            Have I yet mentioned that I love books? Because I do. Reading them, writing them, and making them. One of my favorite gifts ever given was a picture book I made for a cousin of mine, based on an assortment of my characters and the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas”. It was a time-consuming, multi-step process.

First, planning: How to fit a “true love” couple to each verse of the song? Which of my characters would ever give his or her sweetheart ten lords a-leaping, eight maids a-milking, or a partridge in a pear tree? (You’d be surprised.)

Second, creating the artwork. Drawing’s a lot like writing, you know – craft an outline, build upon it, fiddle and tweak the heck out of it until it’s something you can live with. Each of my illustrations had to tell a story, and look good doing it. My end result was no da Vinci, but I was proud of it.

Third, more fiddling and tweaking as I added text and decided on formatting. Then came printing the pages, laminating them, and binding them so that they were less like super awesome placemats and more like a book.

            Books, calendars, CDs and accompanying musical guides… if the receivers of these gifts get half as much of a kick out of getting them as I do making and giving them, that’s a lot of kicks. And knowing that you’ve provided those kicks really is like nothing else. Watching the receiver’s face light up, or hearing their squeals of ecstasy, or reading a thank-you message blown to bits with exclamation points and massive fonts and giddy emoticons – that is a gift in and of itself, and it’s kinda priceless.

            Joy vs. the homemade picture book of a yet-to-be-famous author. Yep, I’m coming out ahead.

            And now a little gift from me to you, readers mine: Share one or more of your Top Giving Moments, and bask in my joy!

“Tradition”

A few years ago, I wrote a short Christmas story in which (nutshell version) fifteen-year-old Al Fischer spends the holiday enthusiastically telling his family everything he loves about the Christmas season.

By purist coincidence (or not…), Al and his author have similar ideas about Christmas. And he’ll be pleased to know that I’ve decided to commemorate our mutual obsession here on Ever On Word by dedicating a series of blog posts to The Top 10 Reasons Christmas Rocks My World.

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#7: Tradition

            Talkin’ about that “time-honored practice or set of such practices” that makes the holidays go ‘round.

            All the big days on the calendar have traditions attached to them. Staying up to see the New Year in; the wearin’ o’ green on St. Paddy’s Day; playing hide-and-seek with colorful eggs on Easter; the list goes on (while I move on…).

            When it comes to Christmas, we’ve got two levels of tradition. Firstly, there are the nationwide – sometimes even internationwide (pretend it’s a word) – traditions that have become indelibly associated with the day. The festooning of evergreen trees, and the hanging of lights and wreaths. The exchange of gifts, and singing of songs, and the temporary obsession with a bearded man in red. All these things and more scream “Christmas” to people the world over.

            Then there are the private, personalized traditions, unique to every family. In the case of we Shipleys, it basically involves:

1) Driving a couple hours to Maternal Grandma’s house (often on the Eve, for sleepover fun).

2) Noisily hanging around with aunts, uncles, cousins, and presents galore.

3) Waiting hungrily for a scrumptious dinner featuring turkey, ham, and a happy-making array of soul food sides.

All followed by 4) Driving back home in the evening for the patiently waiting presents from members of the household.

            It’s a grand way to spend the day. (And if we can get a group performance of the “Twelve Days of Christmas” song going, so much the better.)

            The thing about traditions is, holidays wouldn’t be the same without them. Come to think of it, holidays couldn’t exist without them, since holidays are traditions in and of themselves. And the best part of almost any holiday is looking forward to all the familiar good stuff you know is coming.

            Speaking of good stuff you saw coming, dear readers, you knew I’d be turning things over to you. Won’t you share your favorite Christmas traditions with the Ever On Word community?

“Togetherness”

A few years ago, I wrote a short Christmas story in which (nutshell version) fifteen-year-old Al Fischer spends the holiday enthusiastically telling his family everything he loves about the Christmas season.

By purist coincidence (or not…), Al and his author have similar ideas about Christmas. And he’ll be pleased to know that I’ve decided to commemorate our mutual obsession here on Ever On Word by dedicating a series of blog posts to The Top 10 Reasons Christmas Rocks My World.

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#8: Togetherness

            Christmas, it is generally agreed, is no time of year to spend alone. People in Christmas stories and specials with no one with which to enjoy the holiday are viewed as wretched creatures indeed, and only the provision of togetherness by story’s end will satisfy. How bummed would Dr. Seuss fans have been if the reformed Grinch hadn’t participated in the Whoville feast? Would Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” have met with nearly as much perennial success had Scrooge not showed up at the Cratchit’s to pal around with Tiny Tim and the gang? If Rudolph’s heroism had not resulted in the lifting of his ban from the reindeer games, wouldn’t we be more irritated by the song than a number of us already are?

            Humans are social animals (even those of us who also harbor an antisocial side, as well as some measure of resentment about being fully human as opposed to, say, a part-elemental minstrel). We do best when we incorporate at least a little gathering “in or into a single group, mass, or place” in our lives. Perhaps, for some of us, having to deal with that every day of the year would prove unduly stressful. But what are holidays for if not to celebrate whatever the occasion is with beloved family members, or some fairly good friends, or a group of casual acquaintances you don’t necessarily want to drown in the eggnog?

            Fact is, Christmas wouldn’t be a lot of fun without someone to share it with. No one else would see all the gorgeous decorations you spent hours putting up all by your lonesome. There’d be no one to provide harmony as you sing carols while baking all the cookies that only you will ever eat. You’d have to give yourself your own presents, and put off writing yourself thank-you notes.

            Lest any of you think this is sounding depressingly like your reality, let me remind you that you have tons of togetherness options. Sure, maybe various setbacks mean that you won’t be able to head for Pennsylvania and some homemade pumpkin pie this year, but you can still share your experience of the season with those beloved family members, fairly good friends, and casual acquaintances – or even total strangers, if you wish. You can post photos of that gorgeously-decorated house on Facebook. You can call in to a radio station to ask the deejay to play your favorite carol with which to sing along, and deliver a portion of those cookies you made to a soup kitchen. You can ship a gift to your friend on the other side of the country, or walk a gift down the street to surprise a neighbor. You can creep on people’s blogs and join the conversations about what everyone’s getting up to on and around December 25th.

            There is virtually no reason any of us should suffer Christmas in isolation! So don’t let your personal Christmas story end on a low note. Find your Whoville or Cratchit crib, and get your togetherness on!

“Specials”

A few years ago, I wrote a short Christmas story in which (nutshell version) fifteen-year-old Al Fischer spends the holiday enthusiastically telling his family everything he loves about the Christmas season.

By purist coincidence (or not…), Al and his author have similar ideas about Christmas. And he’ll be pleased to know that I’ve decided to commemorate our mutual obsession here on Ever On Word by dedicating a series of blog posts to The Top 10 Reasons Christmas Rocks My World.

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#9: Specials

            Child Danielle watched a lot of television (often while engaged in creative pursuits like making ventriloquist dummies out of paper and scotch tape, so don’t hate.) She found plenty to entertain her on the public access channels available in her home, but in her deepest heart of hearts, she longed for cable. Happily, her maternal grandparents had more cable channels than Child Danielle knew what to do with. Trips to Nana and Papa’s house for Christmas, then, were thrice wonderful: One for the family, two for the cable, and three for a little something known as “a single television production that features a specific work, a given topic, or a particular performer” thereon – better known, perhaps, as a “special”.

            Christmas specials on the Cartoon Network made the Saturday morning fare of my mother’s generation good as new, in my eyes. Every year, I watched the Flintstones put on pageants, and Yogi Bear throw a party with various other Hanna-Barbera characters I only recognized because they kept showing up for Christmas, and there were Smurfs, and random trolls, and… well, my brain’s done me a favor by chucking most of those memories to make room for more worthwhile things. But a lot of it, I do recall, had to do with helping Santa Claus and saving Christmas.

            Kinda hilarious, really, how many of these Christmas specials revolve around saving Christmas. ‘Twould seem that three-hundred-ninety-four days a year just isn’t enough time to take precautions against every conceivable trip-up. Inclement weather could call for a mutant reindeer to step in and lead the gift-transport team; Santa could break his neck falling from a rooftop and need an emergency replacement, or – perhaps less dire, if no less inconvenient – find himself entangled in a lawsuit involving a hit-and-run with someone’s grandmother. You can’t make this stuff up, people. (Scarier still, you don’t have to: Somebody already established these outrageous plotlines in movies and/or songs.)

            Not all Christmas crises have such global ramifications, however. Sometimes it’s as personal as concern that a beloved family member may not be present for the holiday’s special plans; or that an old Englishman may die alone and hated because three spirits weren’t enough to brighten his (spirit, that is); or that a young girl may not be able to see a production of the “Nutcracker” ballet because her teacher’s magic school bus accidentally un-recycled itself. Smaller dramas, perhaps, but every bit as important to the people involved.

            Generally predictable. Usually corny. Often as implausible as it gets (as a fellow blogger recently noted, “Life Isn’t a Hallmark Movie“). But always special.

            Do share, readers: Which are your favorite Christmas season-centric television specials?

PerGoSeeMo Psalm 30

Psalm 30. Micah 5:2-5a; Luke 1:46-55, 2:13-20, 25-35;

Matthew 2:1-2, 9-11

            A humble girl in Nazareth

Is favored above all,

And she sings unto the highest heaven:

            “Glory! Glory!

Merciful and holy,

The Mighty One who raised his servant lowly!

            See how the shepherds leave the hills

To go before the babe who will

Be Shepherd over chosen Israel.

            Above the town of Bethlehem,

A host of angels call,

And their voices fill the highest heaven:

            “Glory! Glory!

Goodwill to the earth!

The mother of Messiah’s given birth!

            See how the kings come from afar

To worship, ‘neath the shining star,

The Savior King of chosen Israel.

            At Temple in Jerusalem,

An aged man in awe

Lifts his song unto the highest heaven:

            “Glory! Glory!

Light and peace and joy

Will fill the hearts of many, through this boy!

            See how the light has yet to dim

For all who still remember him,

And hail the coming of Immanuel.

“Reason”

A few years ago, I wrote a short Christmas story in which (nutshell version) fifteen-year-old Al Fischer spends the holiday enthusiastically telling his family everything he loves about the Christmas season.

By purist coincidence (or not…), Al and his author have similar ideas about Christmas. And he’ll be pleased to know that I’ve decided to commemorate our mutual obsession here on Ever On Word by dedicating a series of blog posts to The Top 10 Reasons Christmas Rocks My World.

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#10: Reason

            The tenth “declaration made to explain or justify action, decision, or conviction” listed by Al is the “basis or motive for an action, decision, or conviction” behind the holiday itself. That is to say, his reason number ten is the reason for Christmas.

            There occurred an intermission in the writing of this piece while I browsed online for the literal definition of the word “Christmas”. A bit of Googling led me to an article which states:

The World Book Encyclopedia defines “Christmas” as follows:  “The word Christmas comes from “Cristes Maesse”, an early English phrase that means “Mass of Christ.” …The word “Mass” in religious usage means a “death sacrifice.” (“The True Meaning of Christ-Mass”, David J. Meyer)

            Meyer proceeded to go on a tirade about the satanic evil inherent in a holiday where people go around laughing, “Merry death of Christ!” (Full diatribe found here, for any who care to see.) I’m gonna go ahead and respectfully disagree with this guy’s view. I’m well aware that the idea of a midwinter celebration has pagan origins (plenty of history on that here), and anyone can tell that Christmas has undergone its share of secularization. What surprises me is that the “Merry death of Christ” detail offended Meyer the way it did. See if you follow my reasoning:

            Some two-thousand-odd years ago, God sent his son to be born on earth. The reason behind this? The world needed a Christ – a Messiah – a hero to save us from our just desserts for the misdeeds it’s been in our nature to commit since Adam and Eve’s big goof-up. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), and only a perfect death sacrifice would cover all of humanity. Well, shoot; none of us are perfect. So enter Jesus of Nazareth, born for the sole purpose of living a perfect life to offer on our behalf before returning to Godhood with his father. We Christians celebrate Jesus’ birth because he’d come to die for us. In light of that, why not hail each other with a “Merry death of Christ”? Sounds like the last laugh’s on Satan, to me!

            Leave it to God to rock our world, eh, Al?

            Al nods vigorously and self-quotes, “I mean, salvation aside, I say we owe him just for this awesome holiday!”

            It stands to reason.