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So this is Christmas l Chuck's World


Last updated 12/20/2017 at Noon

The wind woke me up this morning. It also put me to sleep last night. It’s like having a personal element.

It was the same sound, too, that kept me curious until I conked out and finally got me out of bed at an ugly hour, when decent folk stay asleep. It sounded like a car door slamming, or someone methodically bouncing a basketball, once, every few minutes.

But it was just the wind, bouncing its own ball. A trash can lid, a for sale sign, something. It’s still going on.

I’m also still going on, as remarkable as that seems. It occurs to me that this is my 60th Christmas season, and also that I should be better at it. I’ve had plenty of time to perfect traditions, but the only consistency is how imperfect I still am.

I mean, it comes every year. Like the wind that rattles yard furniture, I always know it’s coming, and I’m never ready. There’s really no excuse for this, after all these years.

If this sounds familiar, it’s probably because this is an American tradition. We’ve always had mixed feelings when it comes to Christmas on this continent. The influence of the Puritans was strong, those no-nonsense types who worked the farms and fields on Christmas Day to make a point.

And then there was the Founding Generation, who held a revolution to divest themselves of British rule and weren’t all that crazy about British habits, either. Christmas felt too English, and so it didn’t really catch on in the former colonies until the middle of the 19th century.

Helped along by American writers Washington Irving and Clement Moore, and then Charles Dickens himself a few years later, Americans made up for lost time and went Christmas crazy, which then almost immediately prompted a reaction that looks very familiar.

I speak of The War on Christmas, which feels like a 21st-century artificial outrage generator (and it is) but is nothing new. Almost as soon as little houses on the prairie began putting up Christmas trees, other people began griping about losing the meaning of the holiday (which didn’t become an official, national legal holiday until 1870).

Our current sensibilities have a long history, then. We can watch movies from the 1940s and see complaints about stores getting Christmas decorations up before Thanksgiving. “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” which premiered 52 years ago, is practically a screed against commercialization of the Christian observation.

A Harriet Beecher Stowe novel published in 1850 has a very familiar character who mourns the loss of the true meaning of Christmas.

I seek justification in my birthright, then. I’m just a traditional guy, torn between my overwhelming reluctance to get within a 5-mile radius of a mall, any mall, and my desire to eat all the fudge. All of it.

So I procrastinate, sneer at the season and the stupid lights and the dumb music, and then spend the final week buying gift cards and having marathon movie sessions, trying to compress ginned-up joy into whatever hours I have left before it’s over.

Sugar will not taste as sweet on Dec. 26, and even if you assume you can watch “Elf” any time of the year, you really can’t.

Sounds seem to be important. A few years ago, in fact, I went on a shopping spree, downloading Christmas music I remember from my childhood, mostly the popular singers my parents listened to. This had the effect that music does, lighting up memory pods in what passes for my brain, waking up sleeping stray moments.

It’s funny how a syrupy 1960s version of “Silver Bells” can stir up the image of a glistening Schwinn Sting-Ray bike parked under a tree, banana seat and butterfly handlebars and candy-apple green.

But there are no bikes under the tree anymore, and Christmas mornings have eased into the sedate category, still fun but not nearly as thrilling as, say, that first cup of coffee. Music is also fun, but it hasn’t seemed to locate the joy I’m looking for.

It was another sound, as it turned out. The sound my phone makes.

Not that one. Or that one. Look, I know my phone makes a lot of sounds. Cut me a little slack here. I’m trying to make a point.

When I get an alert on my phone for a video chat, I know who’s calling. My grandson, who recently turned 4, has grown up entirely in a world in which I mostly appear to him on a small screen, waving and grinning like a ventriloquist’s dummy. Occasionally (apparently) he’ll mention me, and his mom will push the buttons and start the intergenerational fun.

And a few days ago, I got to watch live while he saw his first snow.

Snow is part of our Christmas liturgy; Scrooge shuffles under it and George Bailey runs through it, screaming for his life to come back. Snow means Christmas, even in central Texas, where a freak cold front had produced a little miracle.

This is what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown. Awe, surprise, joy and wonder, flowing through a small child who has just recently been introduced to everything. And now snow.

I watched as he watched, laughed at his wide eyes and open mouth, and that’s when Christmas came. Ignore the wind, enjoy the songs, but listen to the children. They’re telling us about miracles, they always have been.

All we have to do is listen.


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