The year 2010 is coming to a close. The majority of people are eagerly awaiting three of our favorite holidays; Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. Over time, the holidays take on different meanings. As adults they may indicate a more hectic pace; getting the Thanksgiving dinner planned and cooked, making sure all of our friends and relatives enjoy their meal and the company. We offer grace and thanks when we pause before the food is passed around the table. We share stories and laughter, and the time always seems to pass us by so quickly. Then there is the immense kitchen clean-up that follows; everyone offers to lend a hand to help, yet the hostess insists on taking care of the job all by herself. After all she is the only one who knows that there is a special place for everything, and everything must be put away properly. I hope all your plans go well this year, and you, your family and friends, have an enjoyable day.
Christmas shopping might point to the tension that arises with several trips to various stores, fighting traffic and crowds of equally stressed shoppers with some skirmishing over that special, trendsetting gift that all children yearn for. After all, they can't be the only one among their friends that doesn't have whatever the media has proclaimed the prize of the year; toys like the Magic 8 Ball, Easy Bake Ovens, G.I. Joe, Etch-a-Sketch, and Twister of the 1960's. The 70's had given us the colorful Rubiks Cube puzzle and skateboards. The 80's brought us Cabbage Patch Kid Dolls, Care Bears and Star Wars toys. In the 90's parents searched through the aisles for Tickle Me Elmo, Beanie Babies and Star Rangers. Then it was on to the 21st century when moms and dads, grandfathers and grandmothers, became flabbergasted by iPods, Xboxes and iPhones.
Throughout the frenzied times we try our best to capture and hold on to the real meaning of Christmas and the religious significance it holds. Christmas and Easter are cherished, treasured days in the United States and many countries around the world. Sometimes the pace is so fast, so overwhelming, we have a tendency to forget.
New Year's Eve usually becomes a more quiet time as we advance in years. I'm embarrassed to admit it, but I haven't been up at midnight in a very long time.
New Year's Day is a chance to sit back and watch the Rose Bowl parade; the beauty of the floats. All of them are made out of flowers, in an amazing display of ingenuity and creativity. Later on in the day we may watch a few football games while some will nurse a pounding headache, brought about by ringing in the New Year with great gusto.
Thinking of the Holidays
While I was attending the New York public schools, the year lasted from September to the last day of June, 10 long, gut wrenching months. It was the holidays; thinking about them, counting down the days until they arrived, that broke up the school year. I can recall the Sunday night before that first school day would start. I had a horrible feeling inside me; a queasy, nervous sensation. The feeling of dread and gloom hung over me like a dark cloud just waiting to open up and soak me to the bone; shocking me back to the realization of homework, teachers, tests and clean shirts, pressed pants and ties. Thankfully my collections of ties were of the clip on variety. They were very popular in the sixties. My friends and I knew how to create a knot in a tie, but why bother when you could just attach a ready made one?
Just writing about the first day of the school year brings back those anxious moments. I know some of my friends couldn't wait for the semester to begin and to meet our new teacher. As for me, I felt like I was going to prison. A ten-month sentence was waiting with the only breaks being those magnificent holidays.
The summer months had been so pleasant. Why did we have to return? We had July and August where we woke up when we wanted, which was usually very early. We dressed quickly and went outside to play every New York City street game imaginable. My friends and I could stay out late. Many of the neighborhood's parents sat on the front steps of their house, known as a stoop to New Yorkers, trying desperately to feel a cool breeze. Very few families had air conditioners decades ago.
One of our favorite nighttime activities was catching lightning bugs or fire flies in a jar; making sure the top of the jar always had holes in them. The small holes were the size to keep the bugs from escaping, yet big enough to let air in. We watched on with joy as they let out a flickering yellow glow. When our parents called us in for the night our captured creatures were set free.
Most of the children in school thought about four days: the first day of school, the last day, Thanksgiving and our favorite, December 23rd. It was on this day when all students watched anxiously as the minutes ticked by on the clock that was right in front of the classroom; above the teacher's head and blackboard. We could hear and see the second hand of the clock make its methodical circle; tick, tock, tick tock, over and over again, right to left, around and around. If we looked long enough some of us became dizzy; our eyes blurry. When the bell finally rang we all grabbed our books then rushed to the door. At this time we were always stopped by our teacher and told to slow down, and with a smile on their face, they wished us a Merry Christmas. On a year where January 1st fell on a Friday, we really hit the jackpot; our Christmas holiday would last from December 23rd until Monday, January 4th.
Holidays have always been a central part of our growing years; especially the exclusive day that belongs to each and every one of us. They're our very own anniversary; our birthdays. The anticipation of the day we were born was enormous when we were young; we became the star of the day. They're unique years we all commit to memory. Five years old meant we were ready for kindergarten. It was on our 13th birthday, which came upon us quickly, when we were welcomed into the elite club of teenagers. All of a sudden we were 18 and high school graduates. Then came our 21st birthdays, when most of us became adults. We were officially legal; free to make all of our own choices, though advice was still offered by our parents, yet in a more discreet way. As the years went by we cringed at the thought of being 30 years old. My God, we all came to a realization; we're getting old. At the time it was quite a shock. I don't know about most of you, but wouldn't it be fun to be 30 again?
The Magic of Christmas
As for the memories of Christmas Day, I believe I can write about people who have shared similar experiences; when we were all so very young, so pure of thought. We woke up early; before daylight, usually with some of us in our warm Dr. Denton pajamas. For those who are too young Dr. Denton's are sleepwears with the pants extending down to cover your feet; a combination of pants and socks. They reminded me of a space suit. Very cautiously, yet not very subtlety, we made just enough noise to wake our parents. We were powerless to wait any longer to open the presents that had been miraculously left under the Christmas tree; spread out in a beautiful display. As our parents gathered themselves together we ran to the window to see if any snow had fallen during the night. It's my feeling that there is nothing as special as a cloudy, blustery, snow white Christmas Day.
In those years everyone in the neighborhood had a real tree that our fathers went out to buy. We watched out the window until he returned to the house; with the tree either popping out of the trunk or tied to the roof of the car. When the tree was brought into the house, dropping pine needles everywhere, the entire family then gathered together and started the decoration process with a long strand of lights that had to be untangled; we didn't know why. They had been put away so neatly last year, or so we thought. What could have happened as they sat in a box in the basement? Then we had long strands of thin, silver tinsel that hung down from the tree, and colorful, delicate ornaments that were secured on to a branch with a silver hook. We all had to be very careful or we would hear that popping sound as an ornament dropped, and burst, into hundreds of pieces.
Cat owners are prepared for those ornaments to be stalked and batted around like a tormented mouse; yet when an ornament eventually falls to the floor, your feline friend will run away; they've learned their lesson, conquered their prey, become bored. They won't do it again.
The biggest and most spectacular of these decorations, usually a star or an angel, was placed at the top of the tree. Since the tree was real, its bottom stump needed to be set into water, and that water had to be checked daily. The now-decorated tree, with its brightly colored lights, gave off a fresh smell of pine that drifted throughout the house. We fell asleep as the scent lingered in the air.
As toddlers we examined the colorfully wrapped presents on Christmas morning, shaking a few at a time, we were very excited, amazed; after all they weren't there when we went to bed. Where did they come from? How and when did they get there? Looking back it was wonderful to be so young at heart and have our minds opened to all sorts of magical ideas, interpretations. We wanted to believe the fantasies and more importantly, at this time, we needed to live inside these worlds of dreams.
At the ages of one, two, three and four years old, we looked on in wonder and awe as the milk and cookies we had left for Santa Claus were gone, and only a few crumbs were left on the plate. Santa Claus had really been here; in OUR house! All of the sudden my sister Lynn and I felt very special; our imaginations came alive. Santa's sleigh, pulled by his reindeer, must have landed on our roof. With Santa and his elves working quickly and quietly, they placed the gifts under our tree. Then they were on to our friends' houses and off into the cold darkness of the winter night. Our childish fantasies were able, with no doubts, to make sense of it all.
Santa Claus Rules
After a night and morning like that it was hard to get excited on those days when we awoke and found a quarter under our pillows, left by the Tooth Fairy, which now, paled in comparison with all the presents lying so neatly under the tree. The Tooth Fairy was fine, as well as the Easter Bunny and how cleverly the brightly painted Easter eggs were hidden, but neither could compare to Santa Claus. The wonders of childhood allowed Santa Claus to rank right up there with the exploits of Superman.
Who We Are
I may have jumped around a bit in this article by taking you from Thanksgiving, to school days, Christmas and New Year's; even birthdays. I neglected to include the Fourth of July, Memorial Day, and Veteran's Day. Passover, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Hanukkah are celebrated by all of our Jewish friends.
Then we have Palm Sunday, Good Friday, Easter; the holiest times for Christians. All of these days have a special meaning all their own. The message I want to put into words is that holidays, celebrations, remembrances are of great importance. They're who we are. They're what our ancestors passed down to us, and we have to hold on to these moments, take pleasure in them, and continue to carry on the message. We wait all year and they come and go too quickly.
They Feel Offended
It's my hope that we all try our best to forget the commercialization that holds these holidays hostage and remember what their real meaning is all about; which Christianity is at Christmas and Easter, or just being an American on the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving. It's the most important thing we can do for each other. As our world closes in and becomes more unstable, more problematical, there are people, organizations, here at home and abroad who are looking to stop the way we celebrate. They fear our happiness, they envy our joy, our free will; the ability of men and women to think for themselves. They feel offended by brightly colored Christmas lights strung across the front of our homes and stores with the words MERRY CHRISTMAS in bold letters. They feel offended as the red, white and blue of the American flag flutters in the night's sky, against a background of colorful flashes of fireworks.
As they voice their complaints many cities and towns around the country have given in to their demands. The Nativity scene at Christmas time, a simple yet poignant display, is banned from many places. Christmas lights are taken down. Fifty years ago could we have ever imagined this happening? No we couldn't! Why? Because we wouldn't have let it happen. These days it's a battle that if we turn the other cheek we will lose our way of life, and finally our individuality. It becomes a defining moment in our lives. Either we stand together and define the moment the American way, the Democratic way, or the moment will, in the end, define us all.
So if we come across someone who opposes our celebrations, the joyous memories these holidays have imbedded in our minds, our hearts, just wish them a very cheerful and safe day, a Happy New Year, a happy holiday. Then smile and begin to walk away, but before you do so, take a minute and very nicely, very respectfully, remind them why they live in this great country.
Despite the faults we may have as a nation, like far too many politicians whose egos and sense of entitlement have out-leaped their ethical and rational judgment, remind them of the immeasurable quality and security a Democratic system will always bring to each and every one of us. You may make a friend. If not, you haven't lost anything worth having; at least you tried.
In the end it's all so very simple. The United States welcomes people from all over the world. It's important for everyone to recognize that in this country, in every Democracy, the majority sets the tone; creates the set of laws. That's the way it works; that's why it works.
Count Our blessings
Finally, to one and all, let us take the time to count our blessings for the freedom we have; our unalienable rights. It's a free will to worship as you wish. Each and every one of us may celebrate in our very own way.
We can believe in anything and everything we so desire; that includes Santa Claus, his elves and his reindeer. After all Santa Claus did eat every last one of those cookies children left for him on Christmas Eve; I was absolutely sure of it! I saw the crumbs, the empty glass of milk. I believed it as a two year old and would love that innocent childlike feeling to return, so I may believe it again.
Happy holidays to all! Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy New Year. Let's hope it will be a safe and healthy one for each and every one of us.