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Post Christmas Stuff

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There used to be a saying that I don’t hear anymore: “I’m going to knock the stuffing out of you.” It would have been easily accomplished after Thursday’s Christmas dinner at my sister Joyce’s house. She outdid herself again and I over ate, as usual.

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Since my kids grew up and moved away  – and my wife and I divorced – Christmas has been a lot different for me. I’m that uncle, brother, cousin or friend (sort of) – you know the type. Others feel sorry for me on the holiday and invite me over for a meal. But since my kids grew up there hasn’t really been much drive inside of me to celebrate the holiday in a traditional way. Some of that has to do with working in retail for so long that whatever Christmas spirit was in me has long since been wrung out – or would that be rung out, as in Silver Bells? You see – nothing gets you out of the spirit like listening to Christmas music over the store intercom ad nauseum.

I’ve always hated the commercialization of the holiday. Greed has a lot to do with that. It is not the best side of people at all. People take their lives into their hands shopping for the holidays. And it’s kind of like people come out of the woodwork to celebrate, even people who aren’t practicing Christians.

I suppose it’s not really an ‘exclusive club’ sort of holiday, even though a lot has been made of stripping the religious significance from the holiday and getting the reason for the holiday all mixed up in the debate over separation of Church and State. You don’t necessarily have to be a Christian to say Merry Christmas, you know? Since Christmas falls around the time of year when several other holidays occur, like Kwanza, Hanukkah, Yule, the debate over what to say as a holiday greeting has been muddled around and mixed in for good measure. Happy Holidays is less offensive, although back when I was a kid we said that to include New Years along with Christmas.

Historically the early Christian Church moved the celebration of the holiday to coincide with pagan holidays celebrated in Europe for the purpose of recruiting new converts to the religion. A lot of anti-Christian folk point that out as justification for neutering the holiday of its religious overtones. Certainly the truth about when the Birth of Christ actually occurred is a mystery. Many scholars believe it should probably fall around September. And since the calendar in use at the time was Jewish, very likely the holiday would shift around as the lunar and solar calendars do when converting – like with the date for Easter in the Spring, which is tied to the Jewish holiday Passover. So I can see the argument that the actual holiday should not have anything to do with Christian beliefs. However, it has been called Christmas since I was a kid so at least humor an old man and allow me to say Merry Christmas to you without getting your panties in a wad.

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The holiday should be celebrated as one sees fit. Not only should it not be forced upon anyone who doesn’t want to celebrate it but also people who do celebrate it should be allowed to practice their religion in the process, if that is their desire. Personally I have never taken any offense when someone wishes me Happy Hanukkah even though I’m not Jewish. And if someone said Happy Kwanza to me, I’d be fine with it although I’m not African. But, then, I have a thicker skin than a lot of people, I guess. To me, it’s not a huge deal what anyone says to me. If you’re more comfortable with Happy Holidays and believe that is the least offensive way of expressing the joy you feel this time of year, go for it.

What i enjoy most about the season is  seeing houses decorated with lights. Some people go Clark Griswold overboard on that, but it’s okay. It’s their power bill, right? But one of the things that irks me about the season is how stressed out it makes some people, like there is an obligation to do this and that. That strips the meaning of the holiday away, making it more about competition (making sure little Johnny and Mary get the best toys) and greed than anything else. One should not feel any obligation to seasonal celebrations, folks. If you aren’t in the mood to sing Christmas Carols, exchange gifts or even make a traditional meal, you shouldn’t have to just for the sake of the holiday and what others would or would not think of you should you abstain. Having said that, I think people like to complain a lot about having to get all the shopping done for everyone, and it really isn’t intended to be a negative thing. It’s almost like some people are driven to see who can finish their shopping for gifts earliest. Me, I was always a last minute kind of guy. Sometimes that worked out with price slashing last minute deep discounts. Occasionally I missed out on getting something that was in short supply, though.

Lately I haven’t been a gift giving type due to my personal economic situation. My family knows about all of that. It’s embarrassing when they get me gifts but I appreciate the sentiment and wanting to help meet out. They know if I could I would share gifts as well and when I get out of my current situation I’ll likely play catch up for a season or two. But that’s the way I’m wired. Money isn’t all that important to me and never has been. The fact that it is important for nearly everyone else sets me at odds with the world at times, but I’m okay fighting that battle. My needs are few: a place to sleep, something to eat, a change of clothes for after a quick shower, and I’m good to go.

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I’m grateful for my nephew, Jay, coming over to Orlando to pick me up to take me back to Palm Harbor for Christmas. I’m equally grateful to my brother-in-law, Jerry, for driving me back the day after. Family is important and spending the day with my big sister’s clan was a good time. I spent the past couple of seasons with them, so it’s becoming a tradition, I guess. I think this year we all laughed more than we had in previous gatherings. I’ll take credit for my share of the funny stories, but a lot of that has to do with the shared company and feeling at home, even with that dysfunctional lot.

Anyway, the holiday set me back a couple of days on revising Book Six of The Wolfcat Chronicles, but I had worked that into my personal schedule, so I’m still on track to meet the end of the year deadline. I completed Chapter 16 last night. Today I’m going to attempt knocking out half of the remaining chapters. Perhaps I can finish it off on Tuesday, then, one day earlier than planned. If not, I have Wednesday morning.

#Christmas #Holidays #Commercialization #TheWolfcatChronicles #Revisions

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Thoughts About The Christmas Season

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The other day someone said there’s magic in the air at this time of year, as if this were the only time of the year that magic exists. I don’t know about that. Largely we make our own magic. Maybe it’s Christmas that allows us to see the magic that is always in the world but we usually ignore it because we don’t have time to stop and pay attention. But that’s the subject for a future blog.

The statement prompted me to take a look at how oddly people change  for this season – for both the good and bad. And I also considered how the season has changed since I was kid. There is good magic and bad magic, isn’t there? We certainly see evidence of both on Black Friday – and now the day before it that used to be Thanksgiving Day, a national holiday when everything imaginable was closed. It was like you had to stay home and spend time with your family because there was nothing else to do and nowhere else to do it.

Going back to my earliest memories of the Christmas season I recall catching the excitement over watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on a Black and White Philco TV set. CBS covered the event with Captain Kangaroo, Mr. Moose and Bunny Rabbit that year. I’m not sure whether Mr. Green Jeans was there too, but he probably was. Since I was around four or five years old and a devoted daily viewer of the good Captain there didn’t seem to be anything odd at all about all my TV friends being at a parade. In fact that’s that made the event more special for me. You see, from a kid’s perspective it’s easier to see the magic because no one has yet convinced him or her that it doesn’t exist. In fact, for a brief time the adults tend to encourage kids to believe everything is possible. And a lot of that has to do with Santa Claus. AT the end of the parade Santa made his annual appearance riding a float with his sleigh. What could be more magical than that?

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A few years ago when I worked for a major retailer and weighed about sixty pounds more than I do now I also sported a full beard. The combination of my weight and my almost white hair and beard made me a dead ringer for the man of the season. On a whim I tried on the store’s Santa suit, sans the pillow stuffing and false beard. It fit me well. What happened next gave me reason to believe there was magic in that suit – or at least seeing the suit reminds people, even adults, about the magic of Christmas. Maybe seeing Santa allows people to connect with their inner child, suspend the disbelief for a while and remember when they truly believed in things at face value.

Parents play Santa for their children. I think it’s in the job description somewhere between staying up all night with a sick child who has a fever and teaching a little boy or girl how to ride a bicycle – a kid’s first taste of true independence. We naturally know how to do it, I think, even without putting on the red and white suit. But if you’ve never actually worn the suit you don’t really know the powerful sensation of putting on the mythical persona. People react differently to you, as if you have become larger than life. Suddenly all the miseries of the world around you fade into the background.

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Not only do the little kids respond with smiles of immediate recognition and hopeful expectation, so do adults. A lot of people want to take a picture with Santa, of course. But really just walking around in a retail store wearing the suit causes everyone to pause and for a moment believe. In the process each person regardless of age remembers something nice about Christmas. For the little ones seeing Santa for the first time is an event that reinforces the myth.

Back when I was a kid the build up for the season was reinforced everywhere I looked. Decorations went up around Thanksgiving then and the narrow window for seeing the red, green, sliver and gold long with the blinking lights made it all the more special and urgent. Santa was coming soon! I think it’s all dragged out far too long now.

In my grade school back int he 60’s we started rehearsing for an annual choral pageant learning traditional songs. I’m not sure kids are allowed to do that now, at least they can’t sing anything overtly religious. When my kids were young they couldn’t. Another instance of a break in tradition between my generation and theirs.

Back in the day we helped decorate the classroom with crafts we made in art class – little Christmas trees and Santas, ropes made of interconnected loops of alternating red and green strips of construction paper to wrap around the tree int he classroom. We drew names out of a bowl and that was the person in the class for whom we were to buy a relatively inexpensive gift. If a kid couldn’t afford it they let the teacher know discreetly. Or their parents did. Usually the teacher kicked int he buck or two because every kid should get something at Christmas. It was a huge deal.

I think a lot of that excitement was lost as I grew older. The gifts became more about utility – socks and underwear as oppose to the latest and greatest toy. After I married and had kids I discovered that I got to relive the magic vicariously through my kids and their excitement at opening their gifts.

Some of the magic of Christmas was lost because I worked in retail for so many years. Nothing strips away all the tinsel for a holiday like knowing you have to work longer hours and sometimes even have to work not he actual holiday. One Christmas Eve there was an emergency in the store and my obligation to the store superseded being home to assemble the gifts for my kids. That sucked.

In retail you tend to see the calendar in terms of whichever season you need to set and the next season to transition into. Also nothing gets you out of the mood like listening to Christmas music playing over the intercom ad nauseam – 16 hours a day for the better part of two months. Some of the companies I have worked for began setting Christmas in September! The warped logic behind that was that the store needed to establish through maximum repetition in the customer’s mind that the store has everything they need for decorating their home. In truth we wasted valuable real estate on the sale floor to present merchandise that didn’t start to sell at all until around Thanksgiving – when, oddly enough, the company began to advertise discounts off the inflated retail prices assigned to it.

Personally, I think putting up anything to do with Christmas before Thanksgiving is jumping the gun. Not only does it diminish the value of the season but also it spreads thin the magic inherent in the season. A longer span allows anything new or unusual to gain more of a routine feel. What’s lost in merchandising too early is the sense of urgency in getting gifts and decorations before it is too late. It caters to people who want to get their shopping done early and have it over with, I suppose. But I have never understood that either. Some people shop for stuff as early as July! I don’t know, it’s like the season is a chore to be accomplished, something to be checked off a work list. That is not what Christmas is supposed to be about. In fact, gift giving has been made the primary emphasis when in fact it was not the original message of the season at all. It is supposed to be about hope for the future and peace on Earth.

Black Friday has now encroached on Thanksgiving Day as more and more greed and one-upping the competition has distorted what used to be a great American tradition for sharing time and a meal with family and close friends. Yes, I understand that Thanksgiving was made into a Federal Holiday not all that long ago in a historical sense. But it is based on a tradition dating back to just about as far as history for English settlers goes in America. Since the holiday was established based on that tradition I think it should be sacrosanct. No one should be forced to work on a family holiday. In fact I propose that if a retail store wants to be open on a Federally recognized family holiday they should pay those who volunteer to work on that day double time, regardless of whether the employee is part time or full time. Also salaried employees should be compensated with bonus pay for that day. In this way a retail company would have to sharpen the pencil and figure out if it is really worth the sacrifice of their employee’s family time for the potential sales and profits to be made from being open one extra day.

It is disingenuous for a shopper to be in a retail store on Thanksgiving telling a retail clerk how awful it is that his or her company required him or her to work on a holiday. You see, if customers didn’t come out on a holiday to get those super early special buys there would be no reason for a store to be open. Somewhere along the way, someone who had nothing better to do reviewed their security tape footage and noticed how many cars drove into the parking lot while the store was closed. So, all those people who had no life and went out to see if any stores were open ended a perfectly good holiday for everyone else. It’s a matter of supply and demand, folks. If no one showed up for a sale, next year there wouldn’t be a sale.

As for those great deals, many are not so great. Take a look at how many are limited supply loss leaders, close outs or limited special edition items made to a different standard. Some off brand items or factory refurbished products also made the scene. In other words, a lot of the great deals on for Black Friday and Thanksgiving Day are really not worth the time and effort of getting up early or standing in line. But some of the deals are good and that entices shoppers to come out en masse risking life and limb.

Rush, rush, rush to save a few bucks on stuff a large percentage of which will be returned after Christmas. Walking across a store’s parking lot in the midst of the chaos of such a mass coming and going is like playing real life Frogger.

After working for nearly 30 years in retail I can tell you this, if I didn’t gave to work on Black Friday I would never go near a store. But I guess some people like the experience and perhaps that’s part of what’s necessary for them to capture some of the magic and get into the Christmas spirit. It’s like Black Friday jump starts the shopper’s metabolism. kicking it into a higher buying mode. But that’s not really the Christmas spirit, is it? It is something we have created in lieu of the true meaning of giving.

#BlackFriday #Thanksgiving #Christmas #Shopping #ChistmasSpirit #SantaClaus #Magic