Remember when the wait for Christmas — and whatever gifts Santa Claus and relatives were going to give you — was interminably long?
It occurs to me now that the older you get, the faster Christmas arrives. Maybe it’s because the older you are, the more people for whom you have to buy gifts and do other things, and the more things you have to do for the family celebration.
This year’s lack of snow has something to do with it too, which may or may not be rectified by Mother Nature this week, based on Sunday night’s rather schizophrenic forecast for the week.
Maybe it’s because the world this year seems, if possible, even more screwed up than usual this Christmas season. Protests over two grand juries’ failure to indict police officers over deaths of people they considered to be threats are followed by the murder of two New York police officers. North Korean “leader” Kim Jong Un would be easy to ignore were it not for his collection of nuclear weapons. The movie “The Interview,” in which two journalists assassinate Kim Jong Un (as if), got pulled from release because of threats from North Korea or the hackers who infiltrated Sony Pictures, either explanation for which lacks credibility.
(BREAKING NEWS! The Millennium Theatre in Platteville is showing "The Interview" beginning Christmas Day. I wasn't planning on seeing it before, but now I might.)
Of course, if you think 2014 was bad, go back to 1968, a year that featured the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy and enough other mayhem (for instance, North Korea’s capturing a Navy intelligence ship and keeping its crew hostage for nearly a year, and the Vietnam War) to make one think the world was coming apart. The year ended with the Apollo 8 space flight, during which, on Christmas Eve, looking at the first from near the Moon, astronauts Bill Anders, Jim Lovell and Frank Borman read on TV the first 10 verses of the Book of Genesis. (Which resulted in atheist Madelyn Murray O’Hair suing the federal government for violating the First Amendment. Really.)
Christmas, of course, means different things for people of different ages. The gifts you give are more important than the gifts you get as you get older. For one thing, you realize that not everyone gets the kind of Christmas — toys, food and family — you get. Every year the collection of people around the extended family’s Christmas table(s) changes — some aren’t there anymore, but the empty place at the adult table gets supplanted by someone new in a high chair. The adult delights of brandy slush are for adults only, of course., in the same way that the kids are the only ones to enjoy the Christmas toys, particularly the loud or annoying-sounding toys.
My Christmas part this year is musical. (Musical? Part? Get it?) Some combination of Prestegards (the house now has two trumpet players and one who plays both string bass and trombone, though not at the same time) will be playing both at our church and at Alone for Christmas at First English Lutheran Church Thursday. What we are playing is likely to be determined shortly before we play. The two trumpet players did this last year, and avoided the police’s being called or people running out of St. Mary Catholic Church, last year’s site, screaming or holding their hands over their ears, so come over, but at your own risk.
This is the time of year the Christmas stuff — lights, decorations, clothing, and entertainment — makes its annual trip out of the attic or basement. That means we watch “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas,” “A Christmas Story” and “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.” We also listen to my parents’ collection of Christmas music purchased in the 1960s from Madison tire stores for 99 cents, plus tax (highlighted by the Philadelphia Orchestra’s “We Three Kings” and “Silent Night” by, yes, Barbra Streisand), plus additions over the years. (For instance, Whitney Houston’s “Do You Hear What I Hear,” and, this year, Al Jarreau’s Christmas CD, since he is a graduate of my wife’s alma mater.)
One tradition since 1986 is Darlene Love singing “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” on David Letterman’s late-night show, first on NBC, then on CBS. (Love first sang it on the Phil Spector Christmas album, which no one noticed upon its release because of its release date — Nov. 22, 1963.) Love will sing no more on CBS (or, she says, anywhere else) after this year, since Letterman is retiring this spring, so your last chance to see it, if you didn’t, is at www.youtube.com/watch?v=nzj3S2p2W44.
As I wrote here last year (and the year before that), whether you define Christmas as a religious or secular holiday (O’Hair, by the way, lost her lawsuit), Christmas is a season where people give to others, particularly their children through the guise of Santa Claus, taking no personal credit for their generosity. The New Testament tells Christians to be generous to others, and Christmas is a natural opportunity to do just that.
Merry Christmas, whatever kind of Christmas you’re having.