Tag Archives: Christmas

My Best Christmas

I saw an honest-to-goodness elf one Christmas morning hours before sunrise. It took place sometime during the mid-70’s, but no my elf sighting was not the result of partaking in that decade’s culture of “accepted” drug use. I was only around eleven years old, for goodness’ sake, when I had the extraordinary pleasure of spying one of Santa’s helpers wandering throughout my childhood home. I was cozily tucked away in bed, but I was fully alert. I remember I was anticipating the day’s expected abundance of presents, cherished time with family, and our traditional Christmas breakfast (but mostly the presents), so I’m sure I had all my faculties, and there were no sugar plum fairies dancing in my head. I know what I saw.

The elf just suddenly appeared before my eyes. He was your average, as seen on TV elf, but encountering one in person was beyond thrilling nevertheless. Admittedly, it was also a bit eerie having the North Pole employee, fully upright but at eyelevel, staring at me from only a few inches away from my face. Looking back, I wish I would have initiated a conversation with the portly, thirty-something year old (I’m guessing) donned in green velvet, but instead I laid there motionless and somewhat frightened. I was quite perplexed by the unique experience.

Santa’s helper vanished as quickly as he had appeared. A mere few seconds later I heard the distinct sound of one jingling bell coming from the nearby living room. My Christmas stocking was intentionally equipped with a single bell in hopes of catching St. Nick in the act. Santa’s capture would simply have to wait, at least another year, because I certainly wasn’t about to leave the safety of my bed to investigate the matter. I realize my elf sighting may seem unbelievable to some, but my older (and wiser) sister actually saw Santa Claus – in the same house – standing outside her bedroom door – during the month of June! So, how does my spying an elf on Christmas morning sound now? It really doesn’t matter what anyone thinks, about me or the remarkable vision I had when I was a child, because regardless that was my best Christmas.

Many years later, in 1987 to be exact, I celebrated Christmas as a husband for the first time. My lovely wife and I had married in June, and after our weekend honeymoon we moved into a stucco, one bedroom home. The house did possess a certain charm even if it was about the only rental home in town we could afford. At least none of the floors inside the house were slanted: unlike the only other option we had at the time that also fell within the confines of our limited budget. It is not an exaggeration to say that when placing a marble next to one of the bedroom walls it would immediately roll across the floor to the opposite wall. We tried it, and that’s how we know! Anyway, our first Christmas immersed in wedded bliss brought with it new and joyous experiences such as finding that perfect Christmas tree together and giving others gifts as a couple.

Our collection of Christmas decorations, as young newlyweds just getting started, was pretty scarce. With time (and numerous after Christmas sales) our holiday décor would one day become an extensive collection of ornaments, seasonal knickknacks, and currently full-blown holiday displays, but not in 1987. That year the missus crafted a fireplace, out of a large, empty McDonald’s box that once contained frozen french fries, to liven up our place for the glorious holiday season. The box was painted a deep shade of red and featured a brick pattern meticulously outlined in black. The homemade fireplace was perfectly cheesy and served its purpose as the best place to hang our new Christmas stockings. I swear there were times I could actually feel a hint of warmth radiating from the manufactured flames. I’m sure wherever we landed, that first year as husband and wife, really did not matter since it’s absolutely true what they say…”Home is where the heart is.” That was my best Christmas.

Two Christmases later I found myself very blessed to be one third of a threesome. My lovely wife had given birth to our precious son, back in August, so we were no longer just a couple. Obviously, our lives were forever changed from then on especially at Christmastime. Our main focus was now on our little one and how we could make his Christmas extra special. Of course, at his age (just shy of 5 months old) I’m sure our son was less interested in what Santa brought him than we were. Many times he was captivated by the packaging more so than the costly contents inside. In fact, we eventually noticed if we gave our boy a box, a piece of string, and maybe some tape then he was a happy camper, and he could entertain himself for hours at a time if we’d let him.

It would take many more years before our son was truly interested in what was in Santa’s bag of goodies. Oh, the money my wife and I could’ve saved during his early years if only we had known. That’s alright though because Christmas isn’t about the money one spends. It’s about fondly remembering how my newborn child looked, dressed up as Santa (stocking cap included), and how fascinated he was with all of the sights and sounds of December 25th. Seeing the wonderment of Christmas through your child’s eyes and sharing the holiday season with your offspring, for the first time, is downright incredible. That was my best Christmas.

Christmas isn’t just for the little ones as my wife and I were reminded several years later. We were finishing our Christmas shopping when I spotted a 1998 Mitsubishi Eclipse, shimmering like a diamond, parked in a car dealership’s lot. I spontaneously veered into the lot, as if under some sort of spell, and pulled up alongside the shiny gem. The sports car’s exterior finish was a shade of grey, like no other, and the body style was identical to that of the lime-green colored Eclipse featured in the original Fast & Furious movie. Our teenage son had previously mentioned how awesome he thought that specific vehicle was and his desire to own one some day. Did we dare?

It was only by chance, and after receiving my wife’s hesitant approval, we were even considering purchasing a car for our son at that time. He was still 7 months shy from being able to obtain his driver’s license; however, randomly driving by that particular car dealership and spotting my one and only child’s dream car sure seemed like a sign to me. I think we attempted to rationalize our impending, expensive purchase by acknowledging our child was a responsible, straight-A student and all-around good kid. After the dreaded (but mandatory) negotiations, with the salesman and his curiously unseen boss, we bought the Fast & Furious replica. I drove the vehicle to my mother-in-law’s house where we stored the “sweet ride” in her garage until the “big day.”

Christmas morning, around 4:00am, I bundled up and set out on foot to retrieve my son’s Christmas present. I certainly could’ve used a pair of cross-country skis or at least some snowshoes, while traipsing through the fresh fallen snow, but somehow I managed the 2 mile trek wearing my old pair of snow boots. It was cold, and it was dark although the moon’s reflection against the white snow lit the frozen ground just enough for me to stay on course. The long-sleeved, thermal shirt I was wearing underneath my winter coat was soaked with sweat, from the challenging excursion, but I wasn’t about to complain. Here I was walking in a winter wonderland whilst beaming with excitement at the thought of my son receiving his special gift. What more could I have asked for on this joyous occasion?

I ultimately reached my destination, opened the garage door, and inserted the key in the Mitsubishi’s ignition. The powerful purr of the engine only added to my jubilation. I then drove the Fast & Furious replica to the nearest carwash, for a thorough cleaning, before racing home and parking the vehicle in our driveway. I placed a giant, green bow on top of the car’s hood and retreated from the winter elements to the warmth and comfort of my home. I was relieved to find my son still nestled in his bed since I feared the rumble of the engine might have wakened him. I closed all of the window shades in our living room so the lavish gift would have a better chance of not being detected before its time. I wrapped the car key in a small box, placed the decorated package underneath the Christmas tree, and then waited patiently (sort of) for the day’s festivities to begin.

A couple of anxious filled hours passed before the highly anticipated moment had finally arrived. Our son’s initial look of confusion, when discovering the key between two layers of wrapping tissue, was promptly replaced with a magnificent expression of epic proportions. He dashed over to the bay window and peered through the slits in the closed blinds. There was no dramatically dropping to the ground and fervently kicking his legs as was typically the case whenever our son would receive a present he deemed beyond awesome. He may not have given us a show this time, but our teenager did display an enormous grin that would put even Julia Robert’s smile to shame. That was my best Christmas.

I cannot reflect on this time of year without recalling the two times I gave my wife expensive (at least to us) jewelry for Christmas. I suppose I thought buying her a couple of elegant diamond rings along the way was the least I could do for her continually putting up with me. I totally surprised the missus, in 2003, when I presented her with the Past, Present & Future three-stone diamond ring. Buying her a diamond ring for Christmas that year was the furthest thing from my mind until one day I felt compelled to at least consider the possibility. I had seen the commercial promoting the fine piece of jewelry numerous times, but it wasn’t until after seeing the sentimental scene on the television screen for the umpteenth time that I truly appreciated the significance of the Past, Present & Future concept. I suddenly knew not buying my wife the ring was not an option. That was my best Christmas.

In 2010, I gave my wife a new wedding ring (not a total surprise) to replace the original one she had faithfully worn for over 23 years to that point. My lovely bride still appreciates her old wedding ring (she’s told me so) even though the differences between the two symbols of eternity are like night and day. I vividly remember how my wife’s left hand shook uncontrollably, for several minutes, immediately after I gently slid the sparkling, new ring onto her finger. She constantly gazed at the exquisite gift, with utter amazement, for the rest of the day. That was my best Christmas.

I realize my best Christmas has occurred numerous times throughout my life. The year I received my first “big boy” bicycle was my best Christmas. My best Christmas was also when Santa left me a green pogo stick one year and a pair of orange stilts the next. I’ll never forget waking up on December 25th to find an Atari gaming system, already hooked up to the television, for my siblings and I to share. That was my best Christmas. It appears as though my best Christmas is always about either giving or receiving gifts, and that would partially be true, but there’s certainly more to the story. It’s more about the privilege of witnessing a loved one’s astonishing appreciation for an unexpected gift, but most-importantly it’s about spending Christmas with your family. Therefore, I wouldn’t be surprised if this Christmas is my best Christmas.


Neighbor Story

When we moved into our new neighborhood, more than six years ago, no one came over to welcome us or to even introduce themselves. We watched as people moved in and then moved out of our neighborhood, and most of them left without us ever knowing their names. We did eventually meet and acquire the names of a handful of our neighbors, but for the most part we only knew most of those around us by what we saw. There was the “single-mother neighbor,” the “crazy neighbor,” and the “party neighbors,” etc. One Christmas, after years of just good intentions, I finally baked cookies for about 10 of our surrounding neighbors. As I delivered the cookies, packaged nicely in cheap but festive containers (with a Christmas card attached), I introduced myself and learned the real names of my neighbors. John, formerly known as the “crazy neighbor,” seemed the most appreciative of my holiday gesture.

One week later my wife and I were hurrying around so we could celebrate Christmas once our son arrived at our house. As I met my son in the driveway, to help him unload his car, I noticed John standing outside across the street a few doors down from his house. He was inquisitively looking at a couch sitting on the sidewalk with a “free” sign attached. He picked up one end of the couch and then immediately set it back down. He then just stared intently at the piece of furniture. I really wanted to ignore the situation as I walked towards our front door. I was all dressed up and eager to begin our planned festivities for Pete’s sake! However, I felt my body come to a sudden stop, and I heard myself telling my son, “go on inside, and let your mother know that I will be outside doing my ‘Christian duty’.”

I soon approached John and asked him if I could be of any assistance. He explained to me how he was attempting to figure out the best way of transporting the heavy couch to his house. He had thought about using a floor jack, to raise it up and into the back of his truck, or possibly using a dolly except that he didn’t have one of those. John also informed me of his many health issues which included a bad back. I told him not to worry, and after enlisting my son’s help we carried the furniture back to his house and placed it in his living room. We then put his old couch in the backyard for him. The “new” addition wasn’t in the best of shape, but it was better than what he currently had. John was once again very appreciative, almost shocked even, that we took the time to help a neighbor in need. He insisted we meet his wife, who was in the back bedroom under the care of Hospice, and he informed her of what we had done for him. That day I was reminded that everybody has a story, and every neighbor has a name.

Halloween Past

At a very early age, while growing up in Iowa, I discovered I was almost as fond of Halloween as I was of Christmas. I don’t know which came first: Halloween or candy, but as a boy with an enormous sweet tooth I really had no choice but to fall in love with trick-or-treating. It was impossible for me to ignore the fact that I could accumulate more candy, roaming the streets of my small hometown on Beggars’ Night, than the amount Santa Claus could leave in my Christmas stocking every 25th day of December. My stocking could only hold so much, and many times an apple and an orange took up most of the important space I thought was strictly meant for candy. It didn’t matter how many sugary treats I acquired during Halloween because the goodies were always unwrapped and inhaled within a mere couple of weeks. My older sister was disciplined enough (unlike me) to ration her supply of candy in the same manner a stranded cowboy in the desert would conserve the water in his canteen; therefore, she had plenty of candy leftover well into the next year. To a sugar junkie such as myself that concept was completely foreign to me.

Dressing up for Halloween was always exciting, but dressing up at Christmastime usually meant putting on an itchy sweater and uncomfortable shoes to attend (or possibly star in) some sort of holiday pageant. Knowing beforehand what attire I’d actually be wearing on Beggars’ Night was nearly impossible. In general, my siblings and I each had a couple of costumes in mind, up until about an hour before we were to be unleashed into the dark of night, because we weren’t positive what type of weather we’d be facing until the final hour came. We never knew for sure whether we were going to have decent weather, rain, sleet, snow, or the bitter cold to contend with until the time for trick-or-treating had finally arrived. The famous line, “if you don’t like the weather, just give it a few minutes and it will change,” has never been more pertinent than during late Octobers in Iowa. Most Halloweens we were forced to wear our winter coats over our costumes, so I don’t know why we even bothered getting dressed up.

There were a few foreseeable things my siblings and I could expect every year as Beggars’ Night drew closer. The city would deem 6pm-8pm the official time for trick-or-treating, and my parents would be sticklers for honoring that guideline. We weren’t allowed to leave the confines of our home at 5:45pm, 5:55pm, or even 5:59pm, and it didn’t matter if the other neighborhood kids, dressed as ghosts and goblins, had already come to our house and received a teat from us. I’ve never been too keen on patience, so being all dolled up with no place to go (at least not yet) was just about enough to drive me insane. We couldn’t barrel out the front door until 6:00pm, so barrel out the front door at 6:00pm is what we did. There was so much candy to be had and so little time.

Another thing we could always count on was my mother going to the extreme when preparing Halloween goodie bags for all of the anticipated trick-or-treaters. She would begin her ritual, a day (or sometimes two) before Beggars’ Night, by baking dozens of cookies and popping several batches of popcorn. My mother would place one cookie in a sandwich bag and then she’d add a specific amount of popcorn to that bag with the help of a measuring cup. I would swear each bag was purposefully filled with precisely an equal number of popcorn kernels because my mother aimed for fairness. She apparently didn’t want to cheat anyone or possibly start any feuds amongst siblings who might be comparing their gifts with one another when they got home. My mother typically finished each goodie bag by adding a fun size candy bar, a roll of Smarties, a caramel square, and a sucker before ultimately cinching the sandwich bag with a piece of orange or black ribbon. I always hoped there would be plenty of her famous treat bags leftover and awaiting me at the end of the evening.

My favorite Halloween, while growing up in Iowa, was also my last year of trick-or-treating as a child. I knew well beforehand it was going to be my last year because I was in the sixth grade, and my parents were adamant that once a kid entered junior high then they were too old to be donning a costume and begging for candy. Again, they were sticklers, but this time it was about who should and who should not be trick-or-treating. The weather was perfect for my “last hurrah”: no heavy winter coat to weigh me down or clumsy snow boots to slow me down. I was no longer constrained by my parents to chaperone my younger brother and sister, although I still couldn’t leave the house until 6:00pm, and I had learned the previous year that using a pillowcase was the optimal way for collecting people’s offerings. The newfound method was much better than the old way of using either a cheap plastic bag or the traditional small orange pumpkin (with the stapled black handle that inevitably would come undone by night’s end), so I was all set to hit the streets one last time.

I treated my final experience as a trick-or-treater as though I was an aspiring Olympian. I sprinted from house to house, zigzagging back and forth across the street, while leaping over anything that got in my way including flowerbeds, hedges, and even a few fences. I was guilty of ignoring all trick-or-treating etiquette, and I blatantly disregarded the sidewalks altogether. The sturdy pillowcase got much heavier as the evening wore on, but I managed to somehow tough it out since I knew it was saving me from having to make time-consuming trips back home to unload. I surely mirrored Christopher Columbus as I explored many new territories on my quest for candy. Eventually I found myself over a mile away from home and realizing I had entered the Berg area (aka the rich part of town). I had heard the rumors that some Berg residents handed out full size candy bars on Beggars’ Night, and I was fortunate enough to find out it was true. I decided I should retreat from the rich neighborhood after receiving more than a couple of complaints, from potential donors, about the time now being well beyond 8:00pm.

I tossed the large pillowcase, filled with tasty donations, up and over my shoulder and headed home. I’m certain I resembled some sort of scary Santa Claus toting a bag full of toys, for all of the good girls and boys, but everything in my bag was all mine. My final year of trick-or-treating provided me with a stockpile of candy lasting longer than the usual couple of weeks…but not by much. I could hardly wait, as a sugar junkie needing a fix, for the real Santa to replenish my candy supply, and I was hoping this time the jolly old elf would forget about the apple and the orange when filling up my stocking.

It’s Coming!

It’s almost here. I’m not referring to autumn, Halloween, or even the Pumpkin Porter beer at Four Peaks Brewing Company. I am not talking about Thanksgiving either, but what I am alluding to is the most wonderful time of the year. Christmas! Now, for all of you scrooges out there, although I cannot imagine any of my readers fitting the bill, please just simmer down. My sudden enthusiasm, for the upcoming glorious holiday, began quite unexpectedly this past week while I was relaxing at a Starbucks. Well, that’s not completely true. I was already on the Christmas countdown as far back as January 25th, when I announced to my lovely wife, “only eleven months ’til Christmas.” I make a similar declaration, on the 25th of every month, as to how many months are left until the “big day.” It has become one of my many traditions.

Anyway, I was sitting in my usual comfy chair, enjoying a second cup of dark roast coffee, and making a list of my top 10 Prince songs (“Computer Blue” was #1) when I could not believe the words I heard coming from the mouth of a woman who was standing in line at the counter. She was appalled the coffee shop was already offering the seasonal flavor, Pumpkin Spice, and obviously wanted everybody in the store to hear her displeasure. The curmudgeon just kept repeating in a loud voice, “It’s too early!” When the surly woman finally reached the cash register, several minutes later, she again voiced her disapproval, but this time it was aimed directly at the poor soul behind the counter. I was tempted to chime in with, “hey, Christmas is just around the corner,” but I’m sure the angry customer would have then become livid, and most assuredly that wouldn’t have been good for any of us in the entire store.

I don’t exactly know what the woman was trying to accomplish, but Starbucks is a chain store so the corporation, not the employees, makes the decisions. Besides, Pumpkin Spice is simply a flavor, not a holiday, so maybe the angry woman should just settle down. My wife certainly wouldn’t mind if the seasonal flavor was offered all year long. The woman’s complaining did remind me of what I had heard on the news the previous evening. Sam’s Clubs around the country reportedly had Christmas products displayed in their stores, and people were being asked if they thought August was too early to be thinking about Christmas. I knew what my answer was. I left Starbucks and made a mad dash to a Sam’s Club just down the road. It was true.

I suspected I was in for a tremendous treat, immediately after marching through the store’s entrance, when I spied several artificial trees glowing in the distance. The lifelike trees, with their twinkling lights, were a sight to behold. I roamed only the aisles stocked with Christmas merchandise, and I intently examined the varieties of bulbs, ornaments, wreaths, cookie tins, and outdoor displays. The boundless designs and array of colors were a feast for my eyes. Many people complain about the commercialization of Christmas, but I say, “bring it on.” What harm can it do? The people who know the true meaning of Christmas (the reason for the season) aren’t going to forget what the day’s really about, and if the department stores can benefit, from marketing the holiday during late summer, then so be it. We shouldn’t complain about the annual boost to our nation’s economy regardless of when it begins.

I am aware the build up to the “big day” does seem to come earlier every year, but I don’t mind. I’m not even embarrassed admitting I usually begin seriously thinking about Christmas on the 4th of July. That tends to be the date each year when I first realize we are now closer to Christmas future than to Christmas past, and my excitement only increases from that point on. That’s probably why, during the past two months, I have prematurely purchased a couple of stocking stuffers. Every single year as the magnificent holiday approaches I’m like…well, a kid at Christmas, but if you still happen to be a scrooge, at this point into my blog, then how about “I’m like a kid in a candy store” instead. Is that better?

I am not the only one filled with the Christmas spirit this early. My neighbor across the street already has his house decorated with outdoor Christmas lights. The colorful old-fashioned bulbs, stapled to his house and garage, runs the entire length of his roofline. Oh, that’s right, he just hasn’t gotten around to taking them down from last year yet. Some people detest when stores go from promoting Halloween straight to advertising Christmas; therefore, skipping the Thanksgiving holiday altogether. I don’t mind that at all since Thanksgiving is basically a celebration of when the White man trampled my people. Not exactly. The Indians associated with the first Thanksgiving (with the Pilgrims) were Wampanoag Indians whereas I’m Cherokee, but I can still empathize. Besides, I begin listening to holiday music on November 1st, so I’m already in full blown Christmas mode and not too concerned about Thanksgiving when it comes around.

I am inclined to be more jubilant than usual, if you can imagine that, during the holiday season. I think most people change for the better, even if by only the slimmest of margins, as the season nears. Whenever a tragedy strikes our nation, or when a natural disaster occurs in a small town, people tend to unite with one another and become better versions of themselves. I think the Christmas season bears those same kind of results. The human race generally seems more compassionate, generous, and full of good cheer during the month of December more so than any other time of the year. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it twice, how can anyone not be excited about celebrating Santa Claus and the birth of Jesus Christ (not necessarily in that order) on one special day. Brace yourselves people. Christmas is coming!