Friday, December 16, 2005

#97 - Ruminations on a Christmas Carol

Hark how the bells, sweet silver bells,

I'm not generally a huge fan of bells as a form of music. I can only handle just so much ringing and tinkling before my ears begin to search for an escape. Yet, for some reason, Christmas always heightens my tolerance of all things bell-related, and I actually enjoy listening to them. Even sappy songs like "Silver Bells" can't make me stick my finger down my throat. Must be magic.

all seem to say, throw cares away

We're getting closer to The Big Day. I can tell because my wife has The List out. Mrs. Woody is a tremendous believer in Lists. Vacations are prime targets for Mrs. Woody's listing talent. Christmas is another.
"Here, Bud. It's The List."

I heft it tentatively. "What's this... about five trees' worth?"

"Har, har. Notice how many items have your name attached?"

"Of course I noticed. Looks like my performance review from work. I don't suppose there's any chance of a raise for doing this stuff?"

"No. But I'll let you relax on, say, the 27th if you're a good boy."

"Woo, hoo! Day off!"

Ok, perhaps not quite that bad. But The List keeps us plenty busy up to and including Christmas day.

Christmas is here, bringing good cheer,

The List notwithstanding, it's just so easy to have a wonderful attitude about this season. Really. Mrs. Woody sent me out shopping last night after dinner, and even though the stores were noisy and crowded I had a marvelous time. Not just because I was marking items off The List, but also because I was doing some sneak shopping for Mrs. Woody. I don't get as many opportunities as you might imagine.

to young and old, meek and the bold,

One thing I'm grateful for is that we don't have video gaming consoles at Hacienda Woody. I'm grateful primarily because if I ever wanted to try one out, or even check out the latest hot game before buying one, I'd never get within 50 yards of the demo kiosks in the stores. I base this on my last several visits to Target, Best Buy, Costco, and Wal-Mart. Young juvenile males were clustered around the kiosks about 27 deep. Even getting past them to other parts of the stores was a challenge by itself. Good thing I have sweet little girls. They don't need gaming consoles so long as they have DSL and the American Girl web site bookmarked. Not so far, anyway.

Ding dong ding dong that is their song

Went shopping at Wal-Mart the other night. I think their tag line should be "Where America lets their kids run wild." In this one trip I found kids playing some sort of elaborate game of "Tag" that included running through the store and making sure they grabbed one item from every aisle regardless of whether they intended to buy it or not. Probably not, would be my guess. Then there were the small kids who had managed to ditch their parents two aisles over and were singing "DING, DONG! DING, DONG! DING, DONG!! HEY! WHY AREN'T YOU SINGING DING, DONG??" Why can't kids like that get laryngitis this time of year?

with joyful ring all caroling

I miss carolers. I occasionally go out caroling myself, but we haven't had carolers to the house in several years. I guess folks just get so busy anymore that we miss those simple celebrations that help bring joy to our hearts. Of course, kids don't grasp the significance of such things if they don't include incredible CGI animation. There's only so much you can do with "O Little Town of Bethlehem."

One seems to hear words of good cheer

The ability to believe the best of others is integral to the seasonal spirit. I seem to have a harder time getting worked up over what the ACLU's latest dirty trick might be, or which politician is headed for yet another grand jury investigation. At work I find it easier to tolerate certain customers, the ones who for the rest of the year are classified in the "sub-human life form" category. Users, in other words. Magically I find myself able to handle even their most petty complaints. I can do this because there's no way in heck I'm going to achieve all my performance goals for the rest of the year anyway, and there's a certain freedom to knowing you're doomed. Then, out of nowhere, your boss calls you in for your performance review and tells you - missed goals and all - that he's glad he's got you on his team, because as tough as this year was, next year can only get tougher. He needs you, and hopes you can continue to take pride in your work. That, ladies and gentlemen, is pretty good cheer when budgets are down.

from everywhere filling the air

Interestingly, I find it easy to believe that Christmas is "in the air." We don't, of course, get snow down here in Anaheim. (Well, Disneyland has snow, sort of, but it's not the same thing!) Yet, every season of the year can be felt, literally, in the air around us. In November we get the colder version of the Santa Ana winds, and with them come the negative ions that I've heard about. I believe in those ions, and have seen ample evidence that they negatively influence people all around me. Perhaps I, too, am influenced in that way, and am less pleasant to be around when they occur. But Christmas has an entirely different feel to it. It's not tangible enough to touch, perhaps, but it's tangible enough to fill my heart with anticipation. What else can I say? It's "in the air."

Oh how they pound, raising the sound,

Talk about your pounding, driving headaches. Literally. Driving through a parking lot at a mall or shopping center can be a real adventure by itself. Particularly at this time of year. I could swear that some of the folks with whom I am competing for the last available parking spot have been circling this aisle since two Christmases ago. They have those sunken eyes and drawn, pallid skin that remind me of Dickensian undertakers. Inevitably, the vehicle I'm behind in this parade of lost holiday shoppers is the small, low-to-the-ground pickup truck with tinted windows and a stereo that belongs at Madison Square Garden for all the volume it's putting out. These are the young males who believe the only real form of entertainment worth listening to is one that both damages your hearing and causes your spine to curl into a permanent slouch. Oh, yes, they do pound. So does my head.

o'er hill and dale, telling their tale,

Standing in line, waiting to pay for my hastily selected gifts, it's fascinating to listen to other shoppers who are standing in line all around me. These are veteran shoppers. These are the folks who did not brave the day-after-Thanksgiving sales. They lived for them. They couldn't wait to hit those sales and will regale their listeners with their stories of waking at 3:30 in the morning so they could be in line at 4:30 for a store that was opening at 5:30 for a sale that would only last three hours. Then they will tell you - in the same tone of voice you might expect of a war correspondent - how nasty the crowds were and how they had to practically tackle some little old lady who was clearly going to grab the last remaining blouse on the bargain rack before they could. They will tell you how terrible the selections were, and how they may never shop again. You just know they can't really wait until next Thanksgiving so they can do it all over again.

Gaily they ring while people sing

Time was when you could visit a local store to do a bit of Christmas shopping and know that you would find someone in a dime-store Santa suit, or even just a Santa hat, standing outside ringing their bell and asking one and all to have a bit of Christian charity for their fellow beings. Sometimes you would try to avoid them, but every once in awhile you would reach into your pocket, extract a dollar bill or two, and drop them in. The smile and "God bless you!" you received would somehow put a song in your heart, even if you hadn't been able to find that one gift for that special someone in your life. Suddenly it's not so bad, and you can even think of something that might work just as well. You might have to visit another bell-ringer's store to do it, but even that won't be so bad.

I miss those bell-ringers. Shame on the stores who won't let them remind me of my youth anymore.

song of good cheer, Christmas is here,

Christmas concerts abound! Thank goodness there are still those choirs who don't mind being associated with a blatantly Christian celebration and are even willing to sing about it. And charge money to have others come and listen. And sing wonderful songs about Christ, and Mary and Joseph, and angels and wise men, and shepherds and their flocks, and good Christian cheer, and humble stables, and stars in the heavens, and caroling, and wassailing.

Christmas is here! Be of good cheer!

Merry, merry, merry, merry Christmas,
Merry, merry, merry, merry Christmas,

When Christmas ceases to be merry, when we allow the troubles and cynics of the world to silence our celebrations, then we have failed indeed as a civilization. When, on the other hand, we can celebrate in the face of trials and dangers, and when we can love our fellow men even when we disagree with them, then has the spirit of Christmas triumphed, and we can still look forward to peace on earth. Even good will toward men. All men. Everywhere. Then we become like Christ himself, and can even love our enemies. We still deplore what they do, and we can never accept what they teach. But we can love them just the same. And, as Christ himself has done, we can weep for them.

On on they send, on without end,

Today I, like millions of others around the country and around the world, will be standing in line at a post office. I will be sending packages to those with whom I will not be able to visit this Christmas. My daughter and her family. Our friends up north. A nephew who now lives in Texas. The post office is on tactical alert for the next few weeks, attempting to handle an estimated 300% increase in package traffic and a high influx of Christmas cards and letters. I will be guilty on both counts. I am grateful to the post office for providing this service. Just as my loved ones will be when they receive them.

their joyful tone to every home

'Tis the season for Christmas/holiday movies and specials on TV! Thousands of them! Many of them made with an estimated budget of $27.34! The actors, I assume, worked for free! There are, of course, no original stories anymore. Once you've done your spin on Dickens' "Christmas Carol," or O. Henry's "Gift of the Magi," you've pretty much covered your territory. Still, we get addicted to Christmas movies and specials. Charlie Brown! Wonderful Life! White Christmas! Scrooge! You name it, we watch it. The girls get bored with it all pretty quickly, but Mom and Dad still love it. We'll record some of the better ones, and hope others come out on DVD sometime soon. Know what I haven't seen in years? "Amahl and the Night Visitors." Wish they'd get over their politicalcorrectivitis and play it.

Ding dong ding... dong! Bm(m)!

And to all, a good night!

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