Tag Archives: Christmas

Hand Family Christmas

For the first time in more than eight years, I had both of my sons home for Christmas. It has been a joy to have the house full with my sons and my grandchildren. For most of the past several years, Michelle and I have travelled to spend the holidays with our parents and siblings, which is always a great way to spend the holiday, although many times it was mourning the loss of a family member who was missed for the first Christmas since their passing. This year, we decided to stay home rather than travel. My eldest son moved in with us this year, so we had the pleasure of his company, but then Andrew also said he wanted to spend the holiday with us too.

With the holiday approaching, and knowing that Lindsey and the kids had another set of parents to visit, Michelle and I decided to do a Christmas brunch, rather than dinner. We decided to roast a ham, make a baked egg casserole and a hash brown casserole and have country green beans and Hawaiian rolls round out the menu. Michelle and I split the duties on the ham; she made the hash brown casserole while I made the baked egg casserole and the country green beans. The reaction of the kids made slaving over a hot stove while the kids played with their toys worthwhile. “Grampa, you and Mimi should open a restaurant!”

I didn’t realize how much I missed having kids around on Christmas morning. I love my family, and i love spending time with my mom and siblings, but having grown kids makes things different. Not worse, just different. But this Christmas, with the kids’ antics and the things they say, ranks right up there with the best in my memory.

Spending time with family is the best way to spend the holiday. Remembering the joy of giving is important, as is observing beloved traditions (even if it is beloved by only one person), but last night, after dinner and our traditional drive around to look at Christmas lights, I read from the second chapter of Luke to remind the children of the reason we observe Christmas. They sat and listened to not only that, but Grampa’s reading of “A Visit from St. Nick” before they headed off to bed. Zachary admonished his older brother and sister that they had to get right to sleep before midnight or else Santa would not stop by.

Even the typical sibling drama was minimized, from both levels, as everyone got along and had a great time. Now we can look forward to visiting with Great-Granny and Aunt Debbie starting tomorrow.

Merry Christmas all.

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What Special Time of the Year?

     This is an open letter to all retailers, mall managers, and shopping center moguls.  I fully understand the financial significance of the time period historically referred to as the holiday season.  I know that many retail establishments show annual profit for the first time each year after Thanksgiving when most people head out to shop for Christmas gifts.  I also know that the advent of Internet shopping has cut into this revenue stream in recent years.  Beyond  these, I know that every year the shopping season gets moved back further and further from the holidays so that it no longer has any real connection to any holiday.  This concerns me for several reasons.  First, as I mentioned, the increasing separation of the shopping from the season that spawns it; second, the undermining of the reason for the season; and third the detraction of other holidays which can lead to confusion for the shopper as to what month it actually is.

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     People have historically spent more money in the weeks leading up to Christmas than they typically spend all the rest of the year.  This shopping has historically happened starting the Friday after Thanksgiving where crowds rush the malls, shopping centers and big box stores trying to get the perfect gift.  Retailers have fueled this frenzy by offering significant savings on select items to entice shoppers into their stores.  This commercialism, while often rightfully criticized, is understandable.  Retailers need to make money.  There is no other reason to be in business.  The problem is that the retailers, in an effort to garner more profits, have figured that since they make so much money in the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, surely they could make even more if customers would shop even earlier.  Now several retailers are opening on Thanksgiving day–typically a holiday where all stores would close so employees could spend the holiday with family–and offering the sales that would normally happen on Friday.  This is offensive.  The hapless employees, working for near minimum wage, are being forced to miss time with family; miss time off work to relax and enjoy the holiday and miss an opportunity to give thanks for the jobs they have just so they can work that job.  This is pure unmitigated greed.
     Christmas is a season special to Christians.  While many secular activities have become affiliated with Christmas, it is still primarily a Christian observance.  It draws its name from Christ, its purpose is to celebrate His birth and honor Him by giving gifts much as the Maji presented the Christ-child with gifts.  The amount of gifts and the dollar value of the gifts are not the most important considerations.  As more non-Christians celebrate the holiday, the true reason for the season gets lost amid the cash flow of excess and avarice.  Some of these people express offense at the religious connotations of Christmas.  The media, in an attempt to pander to the most viewers as possible introduces the term “Holiday Season” to describe Christmas and Thanksgiving and urge people to wish each other “Happy Holidays” rather than the more religious sounding “Merry Christmas.”  This is pure unmitigated political correctness.
     One of the more pleasant memories many people have of their childhood Christmases is going shopping for gifts (after Thanksgiving) and seeing the stores festooned with Christmas decorations of glittering gold, bright red and festive green while Christmas carols played over the store speakers.  It, more than any other sign, indicated that Christmas was just around the corner and Santa would soon stop by their house to leave presents under their Christmas tree.  These decorations would go up immediately after Thanksgiving for the Christmas rush.  Today, these decorations are up before the end of September.  This is ridiculous.  There are still two holidays to go before we get to Christmas.  One aisle of the store is filled with Halloween costumes, paper witch door decorations, annoying fake spider webs and enough candy to put California into insulin shock while the next is filled with glitter, pine wreaths, fake trees, lights and wrapping paper.  One goes to a WalMart and has to check one’s calendar app on the smart phone just to figure out what month it is.  Memorial City Mall is having their tree lighting show the weekend before Thanksgiving.  Why? I don’t have an answer.  This is pure unmitigated confusion.
     So, big retail executive/store owner/manager, I say to you: step back and let people enjoy the holidays as they come.  Let the Halloween candy be eaten and the Thanksgiving turkey digested before we get bombarded with Christmas sales.  Let’s not make the entire year nothing more than an extended Christmas shopping season.  To that end, I am making this pledge and encouraging all my friends and family to follow suit: I will not patronize any store that has Christmas decorations up before Halloween ever again.  This means that once the decorations come down after Christmas, if they go back up before Halloween, I stop shopping there.  Yes, this includes WalMart and the Malls.  I will resort to shopping at mom and pop stores, downtown retailers and online e-tailers for all of my Christmas gifts before I subject myself to listening to “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” being played over the speakers while being visually bombarded by Christmas decorations in October.  It pure unmitigated commercialism driven by greed and political correctness that creates confusion and ruins the Holidays for many Christians.

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The Reason for the Season

‘Tis the Season. This is a phrase that has been used to introduce what the media is euphemistically referring to as the “holiday season,” because the true name of the holiday in question is no longer considered politically correct. Stores have holiday sales, and people say Happy Holidays as a greeting to each other. Even the phrase “Happy Hanukkah” is more accepted. Congress has been admonished that they cannot express any salutations on official correspondence that refer to the holiday. There is a concerted effort to marginalize the holiday (a term referring to a Holy Day) that is significant to Christians, and this attack is coming from humanists, atheists, agnostics and muslims among others. These assaults are both direct in the loss of the saying “Merry Christmas” and indirect in the abandonment of the holiday traditions because of the commercialization. They use the very symbols of Christmas to argue against Christian observation. The enemies of Christianity’s victory will not come when Christmas is outlawed, but when Christians surrender Christmas.

Many Christians have decried the commercialization of Christmas which seems to be growing more blatant every year. Retailers set out their decorations earlier, sales get bigger and hyped with more enthusiasm as retailers look for the biggest profits, and people are bombarded with opportunities to donate to any number of charities. This year, Black Friday was actually Black Thursday as many retailers opened for business on Thanksgiving Day. Perhaps they do this to try to marginalize another Christian holiday in Thanksgiving.

Jesus was most likely not born on December 25th. The Bible doesn’t say it and a scientific study of the scripture indicates that it is more likely he was born in September or October, although it is still a matter of discussion and debate. Some claim that the December 25th date is set to coincide with the pagan ritual of saturnalia, but many Christian scholars hold that Constantine, the first Christian emperor, set the holiday date. To refuse to celebrate a Christian holiday because it may fall during a one-time pagan observance is to say that I should not celebrate my birthday because it also happens to be Adolph Hitler’s.

Santa has been attacked by many Christians as a false god or an idol that represents the commercialism that is distracting people from the true meaning of the holiday, that of celebrating Christ’s birth. Some shun Christmas decorations as a pagan ritual. All these reasons may seem a noble cause to shun the traditions of the season, but all that serves to do is to promote the commercialization, humanization and de-Christianization of Christmas. Santa Claus in his popular jolly form with the bright red suit and white fur trim is the creation of the Coca Cola marketing department and was introduced in the 1950’s. He is the quintessential marketing tool and has been one of the most successful in history. Kids wait up all night on Christmas eve looking for Santa’s reindeer to land on their roofs.

Beyond Coca Cola’s Santa Claus is the actual story of Kris Kringle. The name Kris Kringle actually comes from the German KristKindle, which translates Christ Child. According to Wikipedia, Kris Kringle was promoted as a gift bringer during the reformation to replace the figure of Saint Nicholas, a catholic priest known among other things for leaving coins in the shoes of children. So Santa Claus is not a pagan symbol, nor is he an idol or false god. He is the personification of Christ’s love and based entirely on Christian principles. Christians should continue to welcome Santa into their homes every year. The moral implications of telling children about the reality of Santa and the truth of the spirit of giving and its origins in history are an individual issue.

The tradition of decorating for Christmas is not based in the pagan rituals, although some would compare it to a Yule tree to try to remove any reference to the Christian holiday. Some accounts ascribe the origins of the Christmas tree to a representation of the paradise tree, honoring the tree that provided the apple that Eve gave to Adam. Other origins are associated with more modern interpretations in northern Germany of celebrating around the tree, then burning the tree at the end of the festivities. Granted, festooning one’s house in light bulbs and garland may seem garish and commercial, but it is an opportunity to enjoy and pass on a shared family tradition. This helps draw a family closer together.

The commercialization of Christmas is rampant and not just for commercial reasons. Granted, businesses want to make as much money as they can. The term black Friday is a reference to the fact that many retailers operate at a loss (negative ledger balances are usually written in red ink) for most of the year and their ledgers finally run in the black (positive balance) for the first time the day after Thanksgiving when more people head out to begin their Christmas shopping. Retailers have marketing companies working year-round to help people find gifts to give. Man’s greedy nature has reversed the onus so that more people make wish lists of wants rather than lists of gives. The practice of giving gifts may seem disingenuous to the solemnity of the Holy Day, but it is based in the historical Christmas story. The magi brought the baby Jesus gifts befitting a king; gold for its value, frankincense, an incense symbolizing prayer and myrrh, an oil for anointing. Christians give gifts at the holiday in honor of that spirit of giving.

Opponents of Christianity want nothing more than to strip America of all things Christian. They try to purge our history books of any Christian references from our founding fathers. They try to twist the first amendment—the one right that guarantees our right to our Christian faith—to silence us as separation of church and state. They try to strip our recognition of our savior’s birth by making it a commercial celebration.

When Christmas is no longer a Christian celebration, then it is nothing more than a 2-month long advertisement and sale with no significance other than how much people can buy for how little money. It is imperative that Christians remember not only the origin of the day—Christ’s birth—but also the traditions of the holiday. Put up a tree, put up a Santa, tell your kids the story of Christ’s birth. Once we surrender our claim to the traditions, we surrender our claim to the season. Keep Christ in Christmas, keep Christmas in your heart, and keep the traditions alive. Tell everyone you meet “Merry Christmas” eschew saying Happy Holidays and worry not about political correctness. The first amendment gives every Christian the right to say Merry Christmas. Use it at every opportunity.

Christmas is a Christian holiday; may it always be so.

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Filed under Politics, Religion, Society

It’s Still Christmas

On this day, I figure I can give commentary a rest and revel in the spirit of the holiday. This is the first Christmas since my sister passed away this summer and the family is still feeling her absence especially during the holiday. Diane always loved Christmas and she would spend the entire year shopping for gifts for all of us and she was particularly good at finding the perfect gift. She bought several Christmas gifts while she was in Hawaii just before she died and Debbie and our Mother brought them home and wrapped them for her and placed them under the tree. It made it seem like she was still with us.

As I said in an earlier story, Diane was a curious soul and reveled in searching for hidden Christmas gifts as a child. She was also good at getting me into trouble as well as she co-opted me into helping her look. Even during our adolescence, when we were wrapped up in our own lives and not wanting to acknowledge family or each other, we still managed to be on the same page when Christmas came around.

One thing on which Diane and I consistently worked together to ensure happened is the annual tour of lights on Christmas Eve. Mom and Dad started the tradition when we were very young and it became one of our favorite past times. As we all grew older and had our own issues and lives to lead, some of our family members would suggest we forego the tour of lights. “It’s too late, it’s too cold, I’m tired, it’s raining” were some of the excuses offered that threatened to end the tradition. But Diane and I stood firm and insisted that no matter what, the tour would happen. At least it did when I was home. Some years, I was unable to make it home on Christmas Eve, but I assume Diane did her part.

This year, the weather was awful most of the day with torrential downpours the night before and constant rain all day. Everyone came home this year for Christmas to support each other and draw strength from one another to keep the spirit of the holiday alive. Some feeble suggestions arose that maybe we might forgo the tour, but instead we loaded up in two cars and made the trip to the usual places as we discovered that the rain had stopped. I could feel that Diane was with us.

Christmas morning was early as usual, but the pace was slower and the mood only slightly more sedate than usual. We set the gifts out and took turns opening them. When Debbie picked up one of her gifts, mom told her that it was from Diane and that she had bought it in Hawaii. I felt her there then, too.

I know she is with the Lord and she is in heaven and better for it, and while I miss her and wish she was still with us, I also remember that while Christmas is to honor the birth of Christ, the best way to do that is to love one another and remember the bonds of family that continue past our worldly experience.

Merry Christmas To All. Merry Christmas Sister.

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Is Santa here yet?

Christmas is just around the corner, in case you missed all the fuss. Commercials barrage us with Holiday sales, Stores drown us in holiday music, and the lonely Salvation Army ringers make us feel guilty as we walk past them. But for parents, those are not the surest signs of the approaching holiday. No, the most reliable indicator for any parent is the energy level of a child. Kids start bouncing as soon as Thanksgiving is over and the closer to Christmas, the higher the bounce. A chorus of “Is Santa coming yet? Is it Christmas yet?” is all parents hear for the better part of the month.

When I was a child, my sisters, brother and I would search the house for presents, eager to uncover the treasures we would garner on Christmas morning. Diane was particularly good at ferreting out the latest hiding spots. My skill was being able to unwrap presents just enough to see what was being covered up, then rewrapping them to hide the evidence of my espionage. Did we get in trouble? Of course. Many was the time we were threatened with getting no presents as Mom assured us that there were plenty of kids who would love to get our gifts if we didn’t shape up. Besides, Santa surely would know we had been dishonest and skip our house that year. We heard this threat virtually every year as kids. Once we grew into adolescence, snooping wasn’t as much fun.

But no matter the age, we found it difficult to sleep Christmas Eve. One year—I think I was 12—it was the middle of the night and sleep was eluding me. At least it felt like the middle of the night. My bedtime was 8 pm, so it may have very well been 10 pm. Anyway, it was late and I swear I heard jingle bells out my window. By my reckoning, Santa was due to be in our area (my reckoning figuring that Santa would be at our house at precisely midnight) so it seemed not only logical, but highly probably that those jingle bells were the very same bells that adorned Santa’s reigns! Surely he was near; probably over at someone else’s house, but he would soon be at ours!

I sneaked out of my room. My younger brother was sound asleep in his bottom bunk and I made sure not to jostle the bed as I climbed down from the top bunk. I tip-toed across the floor and opened the door; pausing to peer outside down the darkened hallway. No light was visible from my parents’ room next door or my sisters’ at the other end of the hall. I crept down the hall and looked around the corner down the stairs. I could tell the Christmas tree lights were still on from the colorful hues on the walls. I knew we set out milk and cookies for Santa, along with a carrot for the reindeer. If the cookies were still there, then I would know I hadn’t missed him. I started down the stairs as stealthily as a 12-year-old could. The staircase had walls on both sides from the second floor to halfway down on one side. The rest of the way was open to the living room aside from a banister. If I could make it to the banister, I could see the tree and the presents.

I was less than three steps from my target when my dad rounding the corner at the bottom of the stairs. He saw me. I was caught! His scowling gaze took control of my body and I turned around and climbed the stairs significantly faster than I had come down them. Santa got a reprieve that Christmas. I would have to try harder next year. The next day, all four of us were up and in Mom and Dad’s room at 5:30 to get them up to go down to open presents. Every year, we would wake them on Christmas morning long before the sun came up, and every year, they would make us wait until 6 and until they had the coffee pot going.

But the next year, something else happened. We went through the traditional routine on Christmas Eve: touring lights, reading the Nativity story in the Bible, singing carols; then off to bed with the long period of no sleep and trying to figure out how to catch Santa. The next morning, I awoke feeling refreshed and took a long stretch while I blinked open my eyes. The sunlight was filtering in through the curtains and I turned my head to see my mother opening my curtains and looking out the window.

“Good morning,” I said wondering why she was in my room.

“Good morning sleepyhead,” she answered. She had a bemused smile on her face as she watched me thinking. “I just wanted to wish you a Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas,” I automatically answered before it dawned on me. “CHRISTMAS! IT’S CHRISTMAS!”

I was out of the top bunk in a bounce, and out the door to find my siblings gathered at the top of the stairs looking quite impatient. Mom made them wait for me and wouldn’t let them wake me. This was the latest I think we ever got to open gifts.

From then on, we all slept in a little later and once I became an adult, I slept in on Christmas. That is—until I had children. Once my son was old enough to understand Christmas, he ensured we were up at terribly early hours. This was payback for all the years we rousted Mom and Dad.

Now I have no problem sleeping in on Christmas as my sons are out of the house. I actually miss the anticipation of a child yearning for Christmas morning; but I get to hear the stories of my grandkids rousting their parents, and that brings back wonderful memories. Memories of bouncing off the walls waiting for Christmas to come, waiting for Santa to show up, waiting for Mom and Dad to get up. I know that my parents never needed to ask when Christmas was coming.

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Decorating with History

I spent this weekend putting up the outside Christmas lights and finishing the indoor Christmas decorations after a week of procrastinating. While doing so, it occurred to me that decorating for Christmas is like enjoying Christmas in advance. Opening the boxes and totes of decorations is like opening presents; each one brings back memories of when it was first placed on the tree. This is particularly poignant with “first Christmas” ornaments—whether “baby’s first Christmas” or “Our First Christmas.”

When we pull out the decorations, we put on Santa Hats and play some Christmas music on the stereo so we get sufficiently jolly. Last year, I organized and labeled the totes so they were easier to find and sort. Of course, we still had a hard time finding some of the decorations that we knew we had; but the fun of discovery of the decorations we forgot we had made up for it. We started a tradition on our first Christmas of making an ornament from scratch each year; and we make a point of putting them on right after the base ornaments.

Base ornaments you ask? I know every family has its own way of decorating a tree and some people are quite adamant on their idea of the proper way of trimming the tree. Some say the tree topper goes first, others insist that it should be the last thing to go on and that dad has to be the one to do it. Some insist on garland while others prefer icicles. Well, our way of decorating is two strings of c7 lights first, then several strands of mini lights (including on musical twinkling strand) and then the three sizes of glass ball ornaments; big ornaments on bottom, mid-sized ornaments in the middle and smaller ones on the top of the tree. After the glass orbs, we put on the artistic ornaments, including the home made ones.

Each ornament has a story and a special place on the tree. The long sea shell was a gift from my mom after her Bahamas cruise. The Lionel train was given to me by my dad, a long-time model train enthusiast. The acrylic angel has to go in front of a white c7 bulb in the front of the tree. The mirrored cube has to be nestled in a bundle of mini-lights to reflect the most color. The angel goes on top after all the others are in place.

The tree is not the only decorations with stories. We have the hallmark singing snowman and snow dog that I won at a Christmas party at work. We have the cheap Wal-Mart nativity set that looks like the one mom and dad had for years while I was growing up. We have the Christmas bear that sits on the bookcase that one of my Aunts made. I cannot forget to mention the wooden Noel sign that Michelle gave me the first Christmas in the house. So many decorations that have stories and history of their own that they almost take on a life of their own.

Yes, Christmas means celebrating love and life and giving of one’s self to others. But it is also a great opportunity to celebrate family by opening the gifts of history that are our traditions. When opening your decorations this year, take a moment to remember when you got them and listen to the stories they tell you. They are your stories after all. It’s like an early Christmas.

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When Houston freezes over…

And the snow fell. The news had been predicting it all week, but their record being what it is, no one really believed it would. It was too early in the season and it was too warm. Even if it did manage to produce a flake or two, it would melt immediately, because it was not cold enough to accumulate. But snow it did.

The morning saw nothing but the cold air as I drove to work. I had to go in early, so the traffic was lighter than usual for my commute. After I left my meeting, I passed a window and noticed the parking lot was wet, but there were no flakes falling. I went to my cubicle and started working and heard others entering the office and mentioning how it was snowing. Well, not wanting to miss the first snow since 2004, I ran outside and saw…nothing but rain. Are people so enamored with the idea of snow that they confuse old fashioned rain as a snow?

Back at my desk, I ignored the next few comments I heard, but then, after I had been there for about 20 minutes I heard someone mention that it was coming down pretty good. So I checked again. This time I did see snow. One snowflake fell amid the rain. I even stood there for a couple of minutes just to see if it would crank up a little, but nothing. On Facebook, my friends were all commenting on how much it was snowing in the part of the city they were in. I was jealous.

Later, about 10 or so, I saw someone walk in with obvious snow all over their jacket so I looked outside and there it was. Real snow falling in big flakes. As I worked I kept looking out the window to see if it had stopped, and it did for a while. But then it started up again with a vengeance. I tried to take a picture of it. Did you know it is almost impossible to get a good picture of falling snow with a camera phone? When lunchtime came around, a coworker and I decided to go to eat and the snow was falling heavy then. It was snowing so hard, that the grass was actually catching and holding the snow. It accumulated on cars and trucks and pretty much everything but the road (which is a good thing since no one in Houston knows how to drive in snow).

After lunch I even enjoyed a snowball fight and saw a miniature snowman sitting on a bench. Sadly, the snow stopped falling around 3:00 and the sun eveThe Snowmann came out which pretty much finished off the snow that had managed to stick. On the way home, I noticed several people sledding down a hill—an activity alien to this city—on the remnants of the snow. The traffic was non-existent. Rush hour looked like late night as far as traffic was concerned. I suppose a lot of people took off work early to avoid driving in the snow during rush hour. I’ll wager my commute was better than theirs. My wife, a school teacher, did not get to take a snow day much to her kid’s dismay. The first snow in 5 years and the students all were trapped in class.

So the snow is gone now. The cold is still here, though, and there is a freeze warning in place for the area tonight. The heater is on and the blankets are on the bed, so we are prepared to snuggle down and enjoy the early taste of winter. It helps get us in the Christmas mood. The sad thing is that it is unlikely in the extreme to snow again this year (or the next 4 or 5 for that matter) but at least we did get to have some to kick off the Christmas season.

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