Happy Holidays

Ebenezer Scrooge is alive and well and living in Indiana. My family often accuses me of being a regular “bah hum bug” when it comes to the whole holiday season. I typically grumble as I cart the seeming endless boxes of Christmas tree and household decorations from the basement. And while most families have gone the way of the artificial tree, the Watson family (spear-headed by my youngest son) makes our annual trek to the Christmas tree farm (some 60 miles away —yes there are closer one’s but, according to my lovely wife, this one has the best hot chocolate) to “murder” a perfectly good live tree. After shelling out $65 for this “perfect” tree, our friends at the Christmas tree farm shake all the loose needles from our recent investment and tie the tree so it now looks more like a closed umbrella and tie the same to the top of our car. Another part of the tradition is to stop at the local Denny’s for greasy, artery hardening cuisine and recount our adventure at the Christmas tree farm. Bah hum bug! I will have you know, that my dream home has the “Jetson-like” Christmas tree that pops up from a hole in the floor…already decorated- lights and all.

However, given that we are still seemingly light years from the “Jetson” tree, we return home- our hearts and bellies full—with the tree/ “umbrella” tied to the family vehicle. Upon arrival, the family heads in to the house to begin “decoration preparation.” I, as master and chief of all things holiday, outside the house, am left to wrestle the Christmas tree into submission and into the Christmas tree stand.

Ah…the Christmas tree stand. Truly one of the things I like least about the holidays. Our current Christmas tree stand was purchased when we lived in Ohio and close to several Amish communities. Being the industrious, inventive types, the Amish have perfected the Christmas tree stand so the tree is firmly anchored in the stand and can easily be watered, etc. There is also plenty of “adjustability” for the stand so that if the tree needs to go “slightly this way” or “slightly that way”, simply turning a couple of bolts on the stand accomplishes this feat somewhat easily (still not as easily as would be the case with my “pop-up tree”).

The tree is removed from the top of the family vehicle and the twine is cut…releasing the tree from its umbrella-like form. Now some would argue that it might be easier to both place the tree in the stand and carry the tree into the house and then cut the “beast” loose, but you would be wrong. You see, I have tried the “leave the tree bundled” approach. However, I inevitably have to trim branches from the bottom of the tree so that it will fit into the stand. This is difficult to do if the tree is still bound.

The tree–now in the stand–is ready to come through the front door and into the living room. Upon arrival in the living room, the family will spend considerable time directing me as to which way to “lean” the tree so that it is perfectly aligned. As any father will tell you, the male species is not permitted, nor do we have the requisite skill set to make a final determination related to decorating the interior of the home. We may lend our opinion, but the ultimate decision will be made by other family members in concert with the wife/mother. In the end, I swear the tree ends up exactly the same place it was when I first brought it into the house, but what do I know? Bah hum bug!

And the decorating commences. Holiday music must be played and each of the children must hang their “first Christmas” ornaments on the tree. There are the usual store-bought decorations, but the most special of the ornaments are those that have been made by the children over the years. I have my Cleveland Browns ornament for which my kids give me unending grief. Finally, the star is placed on the top of the tree. In years past, I have had the pleasure of adorning the tree with the star. I used to think it was out of deference for me as the father of the household that I was given this very significant task. I now realize it was simply because I used to be the tallest person available at the time. My 14-year-old son and my 18-year-old son are now both taller than I am. And this year, my youngest son took great pleasure in putting the star on the top of the tree.

At the end of the evening, I grumble my way around the house vacuuming the floor of needles from the tree (I thought the guys at the Christmas tree farm shook all those needles from the tree – bah hum bug) and taking the now empty boxes back downstairs to the basement. We turn off all lights and everyone does the appropriate “ooing and ahhing,” and everyone goes back to their respective home work, telephone calls or e-mails. I lament another day “wasted” on silly holiday traditions, decorations and the like.

The next day, I head to the train station for my commute to Chicago. After parking my car in the usual spot, I walk towards the station to purchase my morning paper. I notice an older station wagon parked at the front of the station. As I walk past the car, I am surprised to see the vehicle nearly full of what appear to be clothing items, some food stuffs and a large, but friendly dog. The dog pokes his head out of the car as if to say “hey, how you doin’?” I pet the dog on the head, scratch his ears and look to move on.

In walking by the front door of the wagon, my eyes are dawn to a small, Christmas tree that has been duct taped to the dash board of the car. An electrical cord snakes its way to the cigarette lighter next to an over flowing ash tray. The Christmas tree has a number of miniature lights on it and as small, twinkling star on its top. I am “awakened” from my admiring this tree by a young couple and a small child walking back to their car. Their hair is wet and their clothing disheveled. The man smiles and says to me, “it’s not much of a tree, but it helps us keep the Christmas spirit… Merry Christmas to ya!” All I can mutter is a hollow “Happy Holidays.” Before I know it, the family, having “bathed” in the train station bath rooms, is back in their car and driving west. The young boy, probably no more than five or six hugs his dog and waves as they drive off.

I fight the lump in my throat, but the tears well up in my eyes anyway. “Okay, God, I get it,” I say to myself. “Thanks for the life lesson.” It is not about the decorations, or the size of the tree. It’s not about the “hassles” of the season or the frustration you may feel when you have to lug that box (or multiple boxes) of decorations from the basement. Yes, perhaps you would rather have an artificial tree and by-pass all the “headaches” of going to cut a real tree and have a cup of the “best” hot chocolate around.

It is about the spirit of the season and counting our blessings. When I reflect on the many blessings I have, I am humbled by the unbelievable efforts that family I met at the train station made to keep the holiday spirit alive when they had so many reasons not to do so.

My life is easy compared to theirs. My “frustrations” miniscule in relation to the hardships they face each day. Make this a time of great joy in your lives. Take pleasure in each day and the memories you and your family will share for years. Remember those that are truly less fortunate. And marvel at the lessons that can be learned from the world around you. May this holiday season be full of great joy, love and happiness for you and yours. Happy Holidays!!!

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