Thursday, December 22, 2011

This week's column

A wish for hope and joy this Christmas
Long ago there was a time when a population was ruled by strangers in their own country.
The ruling country was harsh and had an appetite for ruling the world. No talk of any other ruler would be tolerated.
People were heavily taxed, desperate for rest and stressed.
They were frustrated and the gap between rich and poor was vast.
They were waiting on a promise.
Waiting until there were shepherds on a hillside, a star in the sky, wise men on their way and a baby in a manger.
Hope had arrived.
This Christmas, many find themselves in what they see as desperate situations. The economy is bad. Some are living paycheck to paycheck.
People are hurting and lonely. A holiday focusing on family gatherings makes them feel empty instead of warm.
Christmas has become a mad dash for holiday bargains and a long list of unnecessary wants. While others suffer, some fight over a $5 waffle iron in the mad Christmas rush.
We ask, “What are you getting for Christmas?” rather than, “What are you giving for Christmas?”
It’s become a busy array of gatherings that are “fit in” rather than enjoyed. Sometimes the concept of family is lost in the schedule.
We forget about the star that shone over a dirty stable one night. It led to a child, a very important child, not born in a palace but a storage place for hay and animals.
The first to see him were not dignitaries and priests. They were shepherds who may have been out with their sheep for days, smelly and dirty. He came for the poor, the hurting and the lonely, a description that fits most of us at some time in our lives.
We’re an overstressed and over-stimulated society. As a result, we’ve turned Christmas into something dreaded instead of enjoyed. We’ve created the chaos we dread.
We forget about that baby in the manger and who he grew to be. His sacrifice so that others may have joy complete.
Joy is what seems to be missing from the modern celebration of Christmas. We need to stop, breath and smile at the joy of Christmas. The cookies can wait, the presents will get wrapped and the family will get to their gatherings when they can.
Often we feel like Charlie Brown who couldn’t quite figure out Christmas anymore. He even felt depressed. He asked, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”
Then Linus proceeds to tell him the story of that baby in the manger so long ago. Charlie Brown smiled and left the chaos of the play he was struggling to direct. Soon everyone else followed and left the chaos behind.
Like Linus, maybe remembering the story of Christmas may calm the craziness of the season, and like Charlie Brown, we can figure out the joy we’ve missed.
We can think about those shepherds on the hillside, the star in the sky, the wise men who paid tribute and the baby in the manger.
I wish all of you a blessed and joy-filled Christmas.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear ... and watching 'Elf'
One of my favorite things to do during the Christmas season is to watch Christmas movies.
A basket full of them sits by my television all season long. Snoopy, the Griswolds, Santa, various reindeer, George Bailey, some wise men and a Grinch all are included.
But one Christmas movie has trumped all others lately — mainly because it’s full of Christmas cheer, which I hear comes from singing loudly for all to hear.
That’s right, “Elf” is my Christmas favorite. I probably watch it at least 10 times throughout the Christmas season. It’s the movie I pop in while decking the halls with Christmas décor, when I’m wrapping presents, filling out Christmas cards and making Christmas cookies. The movie helps remind me those things are supposed to be joyful and not stressful.
If a 6-foot-tall elf walking around New York isn’t enough to draw you to the film, there’s also a bit of nostalgia in the beginning that reminds viewers of Christmas shows they grew up with. It looks like Rudolph’s world.
I think I like it most because of the childlike innocence Buddy the Elf brings to everyone he comes in contact with.
Remember when Christmas was like that? The excitement building to Christmas morning, the joy of snow and how doing anything Christmas-related made you giddy.
Now Christmas is all about fighting over the best deals in department stores, rushing to get everywhere on time and the stress over finding the right gifts for people you only see once a year. And then there’s the decorating and, even worse, cleaning up afterward.
Buddy sees Christmas through the eyes of a child. His excitement is contagious to all in the film. He’s a reminder that we’ve turned Christmas into chaos when it should be something very sweet.
I wish I could regain that childlike excitement. I tend to put up the décor out of habit and gripe as I walk around the house to plug in everything. A little taste of Buddy the Elf reminds me that singing Christmas songs is cheerful and there’s room for everyone on the nice list, even if they get on my last nerve.
He even has his own holiday now. Dec. 18 is deemed “International Answer the Phone Like Buddy the Elf Day.” I might not ask someone their favorite color when answering the phone myself — odds are I’ll forget anyway — but I’ll laugh if someone else does. Maybe that day I’ll partake in some of the elves’ four main food groups: candy, candy canes, candy corn and syrup.
Although my mother absolutely hates this movie — mainly because she’s not a Will Ferrell fan — I love it.
Buddy likes everyone, thinks everything is exciting and just wants to give everyone a hug.
So grab the world’s best cup of coffee, sing your favorite Christmas tunes and enjoy this Christmas season. And don’t forget to smile — smiling’s Buddy’s favorite thing to do.
The film focuses on the traditions and not truth of Christmas, but it makes me all warm and fuzzy inside. And, yes, Buddy, it makes me smile.