T’was The Night Before Christmas

Around this country and around the world of Christianity Christmas is fast upon us. When you are shorter (younger) Christmas takes on the magical presence of presents, elves, and of course the pre-curser to Amazon Prime… Santa. If the lights that adorn shopping malls, casinos, and the homes where people live wasn’t enough, we are constantly reminded of Christmas with the ever present Christmas music.

Christmas music takes on the familiar air of comfort food when the blessed harmonies of yesteryear adorn the spaces in which we shop. From Sinatra to Burl Ives we sing (mainly to ourselves) the words that have become the mantra of the Christmas Season. From snow bells to Christmas trees we swing to the samba of a time that brings back the wonderful memories we hold on to during this very special season.

Sometimes we are blessed to see carolers dressed in period costume placed before us to commune with the melodies that we hold dear to our hearts. Many times over the course of my short life I have been in Christmas plays, played in an orchestra or smaller ensemble, or even sang with a choral group on or before Christmas. The joy that fills the room with the positive and simple messages of “peace on earth” transposed from notes and words on sheet music seem to dance across the audience like sun beams through a church window.

The spirit of this season lies not in the gifts but the gift of being with the people you love and care about. When I was a little boy on Christmas Eve I would stay awake as long as I could before dreaming of Santa coming down our chimney. I was truly blessed that my parents created this amazing safe place for me to enjoy the dreams of a small boy… always surprised that Santa would deliver the correct toys to the right home. I figured cookies and milk was a small price to pay for this kind of joy.

(Santa Claus, also known as Father Christmas, Saint Nicholas, Saint Nick, Kris Kringle, or simply Santa, is a legendary character originating in Eastern Christian culture who is said to bring children gifts on Christmas Eve of toys and candy or coal or nothing, depending on whether they are “naughty or nice”.)

Looking back at the Christmas I remember and hold dear to my heart… it was Christmas Eve that hit a special nerve. My mom would make a meal of onion soup and shrimp salad with home made thousand island dressing. It was the only time of year we’d enjoy this meal. Then, my mom, dad, and grandmother would sit around the Christmas tree as I played Santa. I loved the giving of presents to my parents and grandmother but always felt bad I had more presents then they did. Of course over half of my presents were underwear and socks, but never was such a mundane gift wrapped and presented so elegantly and appreciated so much as that night before Christmas.

As we get older those memories are etched in our soul as the people that meant so much, in many cases, are gone. However, their smiles, love, and kindness becomes the spirit behind the real meaning of Christmas… to love and be loved in return.

Once Upon A Time… PAZAZ™ Style!

Every time I see a story and it begins “Once Upon A Time” I am immediately taken back to my childhood. I don’t think there is any other introduction that can transport me faster than that wonderful phrase.

“Once Upon A Time” reminds me of my mother reading to me from the old beautifully illustrated short story books. Because my attention span was a bit constricted the length of the book was perfect. This eventually led to the fairy tale movies that seem to contain the aforementioned phrase to begin the induced trance I’ve always succumbed to. There are very few phrases that can transport me into a smile that connects the dots like being swept away into a time machine bringing fond childhood memories to the surface as quickly as “Once Upon A Time.”

In think my favorite stories contained themes that centered around small children getting into trouble (I could relate to that). Then, by the grace of God, finding a way to get out of the predicament always learning something, leading to a very happy conclusion. This conclusion in many instances resulted in a reward that was either food related, love related, or money related. I really couldn’t relate to the money reward as I had no idea what anything would cost but I certainly could relate to food and love.

I would pretend (my favorite pastime other than daydreaming) that I was the child catapulted into the always difficult situation finding a way to navigate my way out and of course saving the day. Reading or listening to the fairy tales constructed and orchestrated by the Brothers Grimm (published in 1812) was one my favorite diversions.

Of the Brother Grimm stories I have to say that the one that stood out for me was Hansel and Gretel. Just think for a moment… a brother and sister abandoned in a forest where they fall into the hands of a witch who lives in a house made of gingerbread, cake, and pastries. You had me at gingerbread!

The story takes a dark turn when the cannibalistic witch intends to fatten the children up before eventually eating them. However, Gretel outwits the witch and kills her. A beautiful story with a clear message to be careful of strangers.

Of course in today’s PC world this story would be edited to include a group hug at the end with all the cookies, cakes, and gingerbread being auctioned off on the QVC network. Then, the proceeds of the auction would go to the diabetes awareness foundation in which case only 10% would actually create awareness and the other 90% would go to the founders of the foundation.

Having said all that I still believe in the magic of the Christmas season and the fairy tale… because part of that happiness can be traced back to all of our childhoods, “Once Upon A Time.”

Giving is the Best Part of Christmas

The Christmas season is the season of giving, the spirit of which embodies the joy we receive from this simple act. I was blessed to have parents that carried the tradition of giving beyond the calender dates associated with the holidays.

My mom was the chairman of the Cancer Society for Marin County. She would coordinate drivers through-out the county to pick up elders or people that could not assist themselves in reaching a medical destination for pre-arranged appointments. This non-profit job was not for payment but brought my mom the simple joy of giving to others. This was before cell phones and relied upon the communication vehicle fondly known as the rotary phone. This in turn relied upon the word of others to carry out their promises to connect with those patients that needed the drivers assistance to reach their medical destination in a timely fashion.

Each day I would hear my mom on the phone for hours at any given time supplying the necessary instructions to the Cancer Society volunteers. My mom did this for over ten years before she was incapacitated and unable to perform her volunteer duties. I will never forget how proud I was of her for giving her time to this great cause.

At that time my dad was involved with teaching music to secondary school children in San Francisco at Herbert Hoover Junior High School. On the side he directed plays, tutored musicians, played in the Marin Symphony, conducted at a music camp in the summer, and played for older people confined to rest homes in Marin County. My dad also sponsored children in other countries providing food, clothing, and even education to those less fortunate.

I remember around this time of year my dad would dress in colorful attire with vest and top hat to play social events and parties around the Bay Area. I always loved the stories of those he played for including the supreme court justices, former presidents, and famous actors.

Later in life I become involved with the Rotary Club and Masonic Lodge to carry on the tradition of giving to the community in which I lived. I learned everything that was positive and good from my parents and I honor them today with this short vignette of just a small part of what they did for others. This, in the spirit of Christmas and the holidays they loved so dearly.

Christmas Lights, Cards, and Presents… PAZAZ™ Style!

Driving around the neighborhood I see more Christmas lights and decorations than ever before. Our neighborhood seems to be a reflection of the relief one finds in something from the past. It’s easy to smile when bright colors, angles, Santa, reindeer, sleighs, and Christmas trees beckon us to a time when everything seemed to be simpler. What we saw was what we got and it was as simple as that.

As we get older we tend to appreciate that which is not seen… which is tomorrow. Sometimes during reflective moments exacerbated by sadness we look to the past for the times we spent with those no longer with us. Life is a precious gift that reminds us that our health is the most important thing. Our health means we can still put up Christmas lights around the home, go on vacations, and relax. This, with the knowledge that our hard work has led us to a much deserved respite from the crowded landscape called humanity. But the best part of this holiday season is giving to others.

The gift of giving is in full swing. Although presents are under our trees and Christmas music fills our hearts with the joy of looking forward to looking back to see how far we’ve come… it’s really the Christmas card that communicates both the joy of connection and the unbridled emotion of letting those we love know how much they mean to us. There is no greater feeling than to express the importance of ones affection for others. It reminds us how blessed we are to have those very special moments with friends and family that have defined those relationships.

I remember my dad going off to Christmas parties to serenade those very lucky people that had hired him to play his violin. When my dad retired he continued to bring the joy of this beautiful season to others. His “business” card stated that he was a “strolling” violinist. He would dress up with a Christmas vest adorned with the colors of the season accompanied with his top hat and scarf. This wonderful man brought so much joy through his expressions of emotion he infused into every song. I can still see him sway to the music as his fingers danced across the fingerboard. His smile was infectious, lighting up the room, as applause could be heard echoing through-out the party.

“Holiday Joy” by James M Vines

Watching children smile and laugh.

Seeing mothers cry at the relief for another year past.

Watching family join hands in prayer.

Telling those you love that you still care.

Holding on to traditions passed down through the years.

Starting new ones with new family and friends.

All in thanks giving we share, holiday joy

with each other, and let the world know

that love is still there.

I would trade all the presents I’ve ever received for just one more Christmas with my mom, dad, and the too many friends I have lost along the way.

The real gift during this very special season is the moments in time we reflect upon that bring those relationships to life.