Holiday Lessons Sans Carols: #10 It Takes A Village

Happy New Year! I hope 2015 is off to a lovely start for you. It is for me, in a low-key sort of way.

I really enjoyed the holidays this year, even though the clock rapidly ticked on no repeat, big band swing time from dawn of Day of the Dead through dusk of Happy New Year. The calendar showed twenty-seven boxed days between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve. Seemed like ample time for shopping and cooking and celebrating and wrapping and attending and laughing and cleaning and serving and watching and resting and giving, but standing here on the other side of January 1, I can’t help but wonder why the boxes couldn’t contain the holly jolly season for a little longer.

So much happens during Advent, even when nothing is happening: just standing in a long line to pay for grabbed gifts sent ten minutes sailing by on a tide of classic Christmas muzak. Perusing the wares of just three stores devoured an entire Saturday, leaving only three more for cookie baking and party throwing. Mondays felt like Fridays as the seasonal warm fuzzies blurred one day into the next. Half the workdays got swallowed by online holiday bargain shopping and the rest were eaten at this or that holiday luncheon, reception, open house, dinner party, or cookie swap.

I loved it all. There’s not a bit of complaint here; rather, I’m brimming still with gratitude and joy. The only negative feeling, if you could call it that, is a touch of sadness that it’s all over until next November. To retain some of the special glow of the holiday season, and to maintain my gratitude, I made a list of ten holiday activities or occurrences that inspired personal growth as well as joy. It’s warming me while the Arctic chill pushes further and further into our neck of the suburban Atlanta woods.

In and OutWriting the details for each item list is taking longer than I thought it would because I have to jump up every twenty minutes to let the office assistants in and then out and then in and then out again and then feed them and then let them out and then in…and then out and then in. It’s what happens when he feline desire for adventure battles with the feline love of warmth. Go out the front door and then break a personal best record to race across three front lawns, a side lawn and three backyards to get to the back door: seventeen seconds! The Feline Winter Games are on!

And now, here is the first of Ten Lessons Sans Carols:

10. It Takes a Village: For years, my mother, while she was alive, and my father enjoyed collecting Dickens Village and New England Village DoneVillage and Christmas In The City, three product lines from Department 56. Their collection comprises more than 70 lighted houses, shops, churches, and other buildings from Charles Dickens’ novels. There’s The Old Curiosity Shop, Old Fezziwig’s Factory, Betsy Trotwood Cottage (that’s how Department 56 spelled it), Falstaff Inn, St. Michael’s Church, and Wackford Squeers boarding school. More than 200 people of all ages, occupations and pursuits seemingly animate the village. Horse-drawn carriages, festively adorned gazebos, merchant stands selling everything from flowers to fowl, bridges and the like add to the bustle and business. Every house is lit from within by a nightlight bulb, which means cleverly hiding dozens of hydra-headed power cords in tubes beneath carefully constructed cotton snow drifts. It takes two weeks to assemble the village according to detailed schematics my father designed and has refined over the years.

After much cajoling, Dad agreed to put up the village this year…if we promised to help Christmasize the house while he worked on the village and if we brought lots of people to see it. We agreed to the deal so he put up the village, and then we made good on our promises.

We had a lot of fun putting up decades old decorations like the greenery and lights along the base of the banister of the open staircase connecting the second floor to the front foyer. Our favorite decorations, besides the village, are four candle-holding blocks that spell out “Neol.” They sit on the table in the foyer beside a lamp with a winter wonderland scene on the lampshade that glows when lit. Most people would arrange the blocks to spell Noel but we pay tribute to the workers who fifty years ago were asked to put up the large letters on the lawn of the machinery plant where my father worked in Mountainside, NJ. Neither French nor English was their first language and so they did their best with the job they’d been given. They put the E before the O between the N and the L, strung lights around them and then went to toast their handiwork at the bar a few doors down. They were called back to work by the boss, who had been fielding phone calls from other business owners who either complained about him mocking the season or complimenting him on a joke well done. We stand by the display as a reminder of the incredible gift we have in the First Amendment.

On the weekend before Christmas, it felt wonderful to welcome friends and friends of friends to sit by the village, which takes up half of the living room, while sipping a cup of warm Glogg and nibbling on GF cookies (these appear later in this list). Many people experienced for themselves the magic that brings the snowy scene to life after gazing at it for a few minutes. It’s a reminder of how much Western society has been transformed in such a short piece of time, and yet how the truths of love, kindness, generosity and interdependence have endured, remained the bedrock on which we build worthwhile lives.

That afternoon I realized how much the village honored my mother, who loved Christmas so much, and how much it comforted my dad, my niece and nephews, and my sister, who were missing mom much more than they let on. I was reminded that everyday is a choice: I can choose to let life’s pains and disappointments isolate and harden me, like old Ebeneezer Scrooge, or I can use them as reasons to perpetrate acts of kindness and to revel in simple pleasures, like Tiny Tim and Bob Cratchit. The weight of emotional pain, and even physical pain, lessens when we let others help us carry it. Our own pain also lessens when we focus on giving to others instead of getting for ourselves. The pain of losing someone may never completely disappear, but it can inspire us to develop new strength and to broaden our circle of love, which makes everyone’s lives so much more beautiful all year long.

Coming up:

9. The Gift That Keeps on Giving: No

8. Gluten Free Food Is Good

7. Glögg Glugg Gluten Free Good (With Frogs)

6. Cool Coat and Cross-Contamination

5. Sprouts Saves

4. The Bright Thing to Do

3. The Family Fonz

2. Gift Guide

1. Stille Nacht

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