Simply Christmas

This year we enjoyed an immensely satisfying Thanksgiving, filled with a harmonious family of 28 with ages ranging from 2 months to 85 years old, representing 4 different generations.  We hosted the event at our house, and I had adopted two tricks that my mother had used for large groups.  I listed a chore on place card so that everyone knew exactly how they could participate in food management; there would be no secret slackers.  Secondly, my mother would take two hats and put the halves of something in each hat, and then everyone would find their dinner partner by finding their other half.  One year it was nuts in one hat and screws in the other, another year it was two lines of a song, etc.  This year I decided to split up oxymorons into two hats, so jumbo had to find shrimp, pretty had to seek out ugly, military and intelligence were a duo, as were butt and head.  At the end of dessert, I ducked out for a couple of hours to go and visit my father.  My timing was impeccable.  By the time I returned, the entire Thanksgiving spread had been cleaned up and the group had settled into a post-dining mode.  At one end of the room, the guitars came out, the singing supplemented by the beautiful voice of a friend of my nephew who came at the last minute because his flight home had been cancelled – the perfect Thanksgiving lucky strike extra.  At the other end we started playing multiple different word games, and in the TV room there was a cadre of somnolent football fans working off the brain anemia associated with too much turkey and pie.

I could not help but think that this is what Christmas should be, but now we had a scant month to regroup and have essentially the same family event, but this time with the stakes raised with gifts.  For the past several years I had grown basically tired of Christmas, not because I was bah humbug, but because I thought that we already done the big warm fuzzy family thing to perfection.  The thought of shopping for the sole purpose of buying gifts was depressing.   This was the first year that I heard the Friday after Thanksgiving referred to as Black Friday, which I mistakenly thought described the dismal Christmas shopping season given the tanking economic environment.  So I was surprised to hear that “black” really referred to the moment that retailers could anticipate making their sustaining profits – the tepid sales during the rest of the year were only designed to keep them in a break even mode, until they could really kick ass in the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  The amped up black Friday ads promoted confusing “door buster” sales at ridiculously early hours – one started at 4 AM.  I  couldn’t imagine that anyone would fall for this gimmick at such an early hour, so I set my alarm for a door buster sociology field trip at the more reasonable hour of 6AM.  This later hour also addressed my (presumably) irrational fear of driving away from home in the pre-dawn hours, worrying that this would be the very day that the sun would sputter out.  Typically I would be driving to the airport and I was always greatly relieved to see the first inklings of dawn and know that I would not be leaving home on the day the sun went dead. 

I cruised into the shopping mall at the still ridiculously early hour of 6:45 AM and was astonished to see that the parking lot was packed with cars jostling for spaces.  The other ironic aspect of this field trip was that I simply do not shop, and probably had not been to the mall for random shopping for 15 years.  My theory on clothing is that if you find something that you like, buy multiples, because they certainly won’t sell it again next year.  Ten years ago when I was last at Marshall Field’s I found the perfect bra, and astonished the saleslady by buying 20 of them.  Based on the way they have held up so far, I am confident and pleased that I secured a life time supply. 

I entered Marshall Field’s and was immediately overwhelmed with the quantity of merchandise.  The entry aisles were filled with generic gifts like scarves and gloves and then I hit the cosmetic section.  There was an idle and somewhat disheveled parfumier who looked like she had rolled in at 4 AM directly from the previous night’s party.  She said that business was pretty good.  Progressing to the central court, I saw parents toting huge shopping bags trailing crabby looking kids.  There was one rotund man sitting sound asleep on a bench surrounded by packages, presumably holding down the home front while the missus went on shopping forays.  I asked the salesperson in a toy store whether these early hours were paying off, and she said, “Well not as good as last year, where we actually had to break up some fights among shoppers trying to get the last discount.”   I eventually stopped at a kiosk that sold board games and word games – I’m definitely a sucker for these.  I asked for a door-buster discount, but was turned down.

As a young parent, I was eager to put on the show when the kids were younger and still full of wide eyed surprise.   But those days were gone. One December I was in the grocery store and spotted our elderly neighbor Mrs. Reed ahead of me, midst other women pushing their shopping carts and wearing execreable holiday themed sweaters with candy canes and reindeer.  I could tell that she was gearing up for another Christmas – her cart had odd things in it like chestnuts and whipped cream, and there was something about her body language that told me that she was also weary of Christmas.  I snuck up behind her and whispered in her ear, “Mrs. Reed are you sick of Christmas?”  She whirled around and said, “Yes, I am so glad that someone has said that!  As far as I can tell, my teenage grandchildren have everything they want and it seems so mercenary to just send a Christmas check.”  We were excited to share our kindred spirit. 

I enjoy buying gifts if I stumble upon something appropriate, which is pretty hit and miss given my aversion to shopping, but I also like making gifts.  But our teenage children have very particular tastes, and it makes sense on a number of levels to give them a holiday check.  However, I was in total agreement with Mrs. Reed on the mercenary aspect of a check.  So for several years I created a game of holiday Jeopardy where the kids had to answer questions of varying worth.  “Family pets, for $5, please. – Answer: The name of the Gramps’ dog that got run over by the mail man.  Question: Who is Fido?”   I had fun calling up their friends and finding little of nuggets of information that then became public knowledge.  But even this game had run its course, and this year we all collectively decided that there was no expectation that we would exchange gifts for Christmas.  We then went for 4 days to the chilly woods of Upper Peninsula of Michigan to peacefully and quietly celebrate Christmas.

It was perfect.  Nick gave me a box of Ticonderoga No. 2 pencils, which I really needed for Soduku since the dog had eaten my other supply.   I had stumbled upon a tiny portable wind generator for Nick that you can attach to your bicycle and use the energy to recharge batteries.  We both got Frances a massage, and Frances got Nick a pair of fur lined Crocs, but it was her gift presentation that was the most inspired.  Nick had come in the house tracking snow everywhere.  Clearly he needed a pair of shoes to change into and she ran up to her room to get them – unwrapped of course since she didn’t want to waste paper.  She leaned over the railing and saw that he was now starting to track snow up the stairs, so Frances simply dropped the shoes over the rail where they tumbled down the stairs, bounced up and startled Nick by hitting him in the back of the leg.  He turned around and said, “Oh, its perfect, a pair of indoor shoes.”  It was a joyful moment that perfectly caught the Christmas spirit.  That night we were eating dinner with some vacationers who were still going whole hog – totus porcus – over the holiday.  Their eyes widened with disbelief as we related the incidence.  But of course in the retelling, we left out the back story of our Christmas promise and the joy of the gift.  The story become the year when Frances threw her Christmas present at Nick and hit him in the leg.

The missing words in the following poem are anagrams (i.e share the same letters) and the number of asterisks indicates the number of letters.  One of the missing words will rhyme with the previous or following line.  Your job is to solve the missing words based on the above rules and the context of the poem.  Scroll down for answers. 

 Merchandizers tell us that Christmas will be dreary and unpleasant

 Unless everyone receives an exquisite store bought  *******

 Just like the hissing ******* who seduces Adam and Eve,

 And tempts them with gifts they want to receive.

 But the family that ******* and doesn’t succumb to this lure

 Can enjoy an unfettered Christmas spirit both simple and pure.







Answer:  serpent, present repents

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