20191221: Christmas Spirit

Originally posted for another blog in December of 2019, but preserved here.

People are nicer during Christmas. Strangers hold a door open a little longer, we give of ourselves a little more freely. We more kind to each other. Even poorly mannered children say “Please” and “Thank you” because Santa is watching. I wish it was that way all year long. The world would be a better place. It’s the Christmas spirit, a chance for rebirth during our holiest season. It’s hope for peace, health, and prosperity in a new year.

Christmas Story:
I have this magical “thing”. Not sure what it is, but at this point, well into my 50’s, it is undeniable that I possess “it”.
I consider it a gift.
I have Christmas “spirit”, and it oozes out of me and gently covers everyone around me with love and joy, cinnamon and peppermint. It’s impossible to be around ME, during Christmas, and not sing and dance, or decorate something.

Every year, someone crosses my path who is a Scrooge, a lost soul, torn and wrecked because of personal trials or disappointment, and who has lost the spirit of Christmas. It’s easy to lose the spirit of Christmas, but there is nothing like that feeling of rebirth. Personally, I think it is the best gift I could ever give.

One year, Dad was dating a cute lil’ sprout of a redhead named Pam. She was in her mid-40’s, an ICU nurse, had grown children, and 3 grandchildren. I was in my late 20’s, just cashed out from the firm in Miami, and moved home to resolve my mother’s problems. I was living with Dad that year. As Christmas approached, Dad and I made the annual trek to the tree lot, and brought home the big tree for the living room, and regular 8′ ones for the family room and dining room. We were putting them up, trimming a few boughs, and Pam was sitting at the bar, nursing a bourbon and water. I was mildly annoyed she wasn’t helping us because Dad and I needed 12 arms each.

I went to grab another pair of snips, walked past her when she said, “I haven’t seen a Christmas tree in the house since I was 7yrs old.” I took a few more steps, slowing down like an aircraft carrier, and turned to her, “What did you say?” She told me the story…… Horrible childhood. No presents that year when she was 7yrs old, and she actually received coal in her stocking. I had heard the legend of people who received coal but never met ANYONE who actually received coal in a Christmas stocking. She did. At that time, she still believed in Santa and Santa brought her… coal. Her father was cruel and left her mother the following day, December 26th. Her mother, feeling the loss, never put up another Christmas tree, and died young, when Pam was 14yrs old. Pam carried the loss into her adulthood. Her kids and then grandchildren, never had a Christmas tree. Pam was an accomplished woman, no one would have ever imagined the pain underneath……..

Between the Bourbon and the tears, I finally said to her, “So, you mean to tell me, you’ve been carrying around that $hit baggage for almost 40yrs, anxious about the month of December, hating on Christmas…… full of old dred?” She nodded. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “For 40yrs?”, I asked. “Yeah”, she admitted. “Well, don’t you think 40yrs is long enough?”, I proposed. It was time to pack the old crap up and throw it away, especially for the kids and grandchildren. She admitted she thought about breaking up with my Dad, “since we were such a big Christmas family”. I looked at her like she was crazy, “You mean, you would rather hang on to 40yrs of weird misplaced grief, than spend Christmas with a guy you love?” Just talking it out, realizing the oddity of it all, saying the words, gave her a little bit of hope. She agreed to……….. try.

Dad, the Marine, has a “thing” for Christmas. He decorates the outside to the hilt. People drive by his house to see his lights. So, he goes to garage sales all year long to buy stuffed toys, comes home and launders them (some don’t make it but most do). Then, he dresses up in a Santa suit, every night, in front of the house, and gives stuffed animals to the kids in the cars who have driven by his house to see the lights. THAT was Dad. Pam didn’t know if she could handle it and was anxious.

Well, she turned into a Christmas elf. Don’t get me wrong, I could have been Mrs Claus, but for Pam, it was 40 yrs worth of pent up Christmas spirit all coming out at the same time. It was slow at first. But she was always over for dinner and we were always doing something related to Christmas. Pretty soon, I was the right hand and she was the left hand. We worked together beautifully. One night, I came home from a late class, and there was a 6′ tree at the end of the kitchen peninsula. She was humming in the kitchen. I motioned to the tree, teasing her, and said, “You want to explain..?” She looked guilty, “It was on sale, and I thought we needed another one.” I nodded…. we did….. and it was beautiful!

We made Christmas stockings for her kids and grandkids….. they didn’t have any.

We MADE peppermint that year (I’ll never do that again), popcorn balls, peanut butter balls, fudge, and all kinds of breads and casseroles. One night, we sat on the kitchen floor, still making meatballs at 2:00am…….. it was her mother’s recipe……. which she had saved but hadn’t made in 40yrs.
We made enough for a diabetic coma! She had the nurses over for a party – she had never done anything like that before. I was so happy for her…. in the lead. She was a natural, and I swear, you could SEE the light shining from inside her. She glowed like an angel.

On Sundays, we usually had her kids over for a big lunch. Her son cornered me and asked about “the Christmas thing”. I told him the story Pam told me. He never knew the real reason why his mom hated Christmas. She had never spoken about it.

A few nights a week, Dad slipped over to Pam’s apartment to spend the night. Mid December, out of the blue, Dad hugged me bigly. She had told him of our conversation. Pam’s apartment was decorated to the hilt……. overblown Christmas explosion. Dad was exhausted though, no sleep for him, Pam insisted on sleeping with all the Christmas lights on.

Middle of December, Pam decided we had to “make a trip to the country for pine boughs”. Okay fine, a trip to the grocery store is fun for me. Dad was supposed to go but for some reason, he couldn’t make it at the last minute. Pam was sad at the prospect of canceling. “No problem, we can do it.”, I said. Off we went. We drove almost 100 miles into Mississippi before finding “adequate” pine boughs and cedar…… one of the best days of my life. Pam was beaming, brimming with Christmas spirit. We came home loaded with clippings and ANOTHER tree, tied to the rooftop, for the deck. We then decorated the BACK yard.

We went to church on Christmas Eve as one big family. Pam didn’t have a church but that was okay, our’s was big enough for spares. She softly cried most of the way service, raw emotions right at the surface, especially when it came time to sing. Dad kept trying to hold her hand and ask her what was wrong. I already knew. Happy tears, and bittersweet for all the years she lost. She was back, among the living.

And along the way, she kept inviting people to Christmas dinner. We had 24 that year for Christmas Eve. It was GREAT! And our living room was small, but by the time Christmas morning rolled around, there were so many presents, you couldn’t get INTO the living room…… grandkids……. you know how it is!

And that was the year Pam got her Christmas spirit back.

So, this year, if you find someone who is in need of a little Christmas spirit, give them some of yours. If you need spirit, find it. We only have so many years on this earth, don’t waste a single one…… by holding onto the sadness of years gone by. Cast out the dred. Let it go. Warm your cold old heart. The year 2020 looks to be a promising one for us all.

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