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Christmas Lessons, 1969

Christmas Lessons, 1969

Today when you’re running any last minute errands, peace out! Seriously, after driving and walking yesterday I was really wondering if any of those in cars were focused at all on peace and goodwill. Think of the irony of rushing to complete tasks for Christmas while nearly running other cars off the road or running over pedestrians in the parking lots—does this make sense?

Yesterday while I was out to go to an appointment, I couldn’t believe the hyper-awareness I needed to maintain to keep myself safe while on the road. I was singing along to “O Holy Night” when I first almost got sideswiped—after I had checked for an empty lane and used my turn signal—the huge SUV that almost got me kept bouncing among lanes without ever using a signal, but the driver of that vehicle was far from the only one.

This sort of thing kept repeating—I had to keep turning up my music and reminding myself to calm down. And when I could see the drivers’ faces, those faces seemed blank and set in stone. The people did not seem angry or aggressive—it was as if they were not there—perhaps they were running through to-do lists in their heads.

After I almost got hit as I walked into the pedestrian crosswalk outside of Office Max—a crosswalk protected by stop signs on both sides—when a car blew through as if neither the stop signs nor I existed—I decided I was done. My errands could wait if this was how my fellow humans were sharing the holiday cheer. All I had to do was get to my own street—where I was greeted by another large SUV going the wrong way down our one-way street. After that car had passed and as soon as I could turn safely, I was followed by another vehicle that had turned so quickly behind me that it had been visible neither in my rear view mirror nor through my front windshield.

When I parked my car in front of my house, I resolved to stay home the rest of the day—no matter what else I might have wanted to accomplish out and about.

All I can think is that too many people have bought into the myths that our celebrations of Christmas have to be perfect and that everything has to be done by December 24 or all is lost.

Well, long ago my father shattered the myth of perfect Christmas for me and I’m finally starting to think it was one of the better things that happened to me. Believe me, I did not always see my personal story this way. What happened was this: I presented my parents with this huge list which I compiled from poring over the Sears Wishbook. Remember those? Well, Christmas Eve came and the present Santa brought was from that list but was not what I most wanted. I threw a fit and my father threw one back. He said, “Fine—there isn’t any Santa, you know. We do the shopping and that’s what we could find that was on your list.”

I used to think he could have been more sensitive, but now I know just how much of a brat I was being. He was running his pharmacy six days a week and then had to rely on my mother—the K-12 music teacher who had the elementary music program, as well as junior high and high school choir and band concerts, to run—to get to the closest town with a store that sold toys so she could buy our presents. No store was open on his day off, which was Sunday. They were busy decorating and providing us with all the trappings of Christmas while doing their jobs that paid for such things—they were exhausted. Too bad you didn’t get the perfect Christmas you wanted, kid. Neither did they, neither did they.

Unfortunately, the Christmas Machine is so much bigger today than it was when I was growing up. We not only have stores that are open on Sundays and late into the evening, we now have stores that stay open 24 hours a day the week before Christmas. We have online shopping and next day shipping. But that doesn’t mean the stores—brick or virtual—have that “perfect” gift you want to buy. That doesn’t mean we have any more hours in the day to live our normal lives while preparing for the holidays—even if we can go shopping at 2:00 a.m. if we choose. And that doesn’t mean no one should ever be disappointed.

What I learned that Christmas—OK, what I later realized I learned that Christmas—is that the real present is what others have done for you with their intent. It’s their love and time that matters more than receiving the perfect material gift.

And, of course, if you believe Christmas is really about a little baby bringing light into this world, how can any of this rushing around without love really be what matters most?

Even if you don’t believe Christmas is about that baby, do you really want to mar your celebrations by damaging your vehicle or by getting charged with careless driving—or by harming someone else’s body and/or property?

In our house, tonight is about going to church and being together. But we also give ourselves the gift of celebrating the 12 Days of Christmas—which means Christmas begins tomorrow for us. We don’t have to be done by the 25th because we’re going to keep celebrating.

While you (and I) are busy completing any necessary tasks today, keep singing “Joy to the World”—at the top of your lungs, if you must, to remind yourself what all this busyness is all about. Give yourself—and others—the gift of having a merry little imperfect Christmas.

Peace—let it begin with me and you today.

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