Holding on to Christmas

Wouldn’t it be nice if that special feeling stayed with us all year long?

Stop reading. Look up. Over there in the corner. Is your Christmas tree still there? Lights glimmering, ornaments shining, star on top brightening your home?

Or is it long gone? Tossed out or packed away with every other red and green knickknack you own.

It’s not my place to judge; we all do what we do, but just so you know, ours still sits right where we put it. And as long as it’s January, I’ll be fighting the fight to delay the inevitable.

I’d leave it up year-round if she’d let me. Nancy will tolerate it for a while, but the whole month is tough for her. Sometimes we make it; sometimes she’s had her fill.

But I just love having ours up. It makes me smile.

As with most families, a good many of our ornaments and decorations bring to mind their own story. Even the lit tree we no longer light ourselves is the result of a tale recalling a time when I did all the work while Nancy’s role seemed to be that of offering repeated nods of disapproval.

“Well, I mean it’s OK, I guess, but do you think you could just …” One year we had a real tree and left that one up, too. When I finally caved in, de-decked, and swept up what little of it remained, the city had long since quit offering to carry it away.

While I’d been happy to keep it up and proud to show it off to whomever dropped by, tossing it to the street for the whole neighborhood to judge felt suddenly intimidating.

So I stashed it in the corner of the backyard, thinking I’d trash it some night under darkness.

Never happened.

We hid the grandkids’ Easter eggs on what was left of its branches when springtime came. They didn’t know, and we got two seasons for the price of one from that tree.

When the kids were home this year, now all grown, their conversation turned to that annual holiday theme of deciding “who wants what when Mom up and dies.”

There is Nancy’s very favorite tree ornament — a tiny little bird with a titch of glitter blended into its puke green color. She’s had it since she was three. No one spoke up for that.

Seemed logical at the time, but not long after 9/11, when families were encouraged to select a designated gathering site in the event of some future attack, our family chose Cracker Barrel … and bought an ornament to commemorate it. No one spoke up for that.

There are three different ornaments made by each of our three daughters when their grade school teachers apparently needed a classroom art project. Their photos are still cute, but the lacy border long ago unglued itself from the rusted-out mason jar lid it once wrapped. No one spoke up for that.

We’ve hung a Notre Dame football every year since we got married, but the university has only seen one national championship. The kids think it could be a jinx. No one spoke up for that.

We own a set of old-fashioned blocks that spell out “Merry Christmas” when we can find them all. We never set them out without recalling the year we arrived home one evening to find one of the girls’ friends had rearranged them to spell a different, less holiday-ish greeting that the baby Jesus would not have appreciated. No one owned up to that. No one spoke up for that.

Recalling silly sentiments and gazing at worn-out stuff no one wants. So why am I holding on so long? Why the desire to prolong?

I don’t think I’m alone, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with me. The best I can offer lies in the one ornament that sits front and center, a hand-me-down from Nancy’s dad, now deceased. It simply says “Believe!”

I believe humans are better at being human during the holidays; I know I am. I believe it’s a season that has room for both the magical and the miraculous. We certainly have need for both.

I believe I drive more patiently then, happy to let another cut in, less irritated with those who do. I found myself tipping our waiters more, happy to share my cash and the spirit of the season.

Our faculty, students, and their families joined in to generously support multiple charitable causes — all at once. The food bank, the Ladies of Charity, St. Vincent de Paul, pediatric cancer research, lunch for the teachers, and on and on and on.

My guess is you did the same. And it’s not that we don’t do these sorts of things year-round, but I believe the heart feels things differently then, if you know what I mean.

During the season I refuse to pack away, I read numerous accounts of men and women, not all of them wealthy, playing Secret Santa, handing out cash, paying off others’ layaway, utility bills, grocery tabs — stories I don’t see as much the rest of the year.

Maybe people are every bit as generous through all four seasons of the calendar. Perhaps it’s the media that cover it less frequently the rest of the year. I believe they’re kinder, too, and much less focused on the negative side of life.

People dropped off gift cards and asked me to give them away. A dad asked me to pick three or four families in need and then bought them all complete Christmas dinners, from turkeys to utensils. They never knew his name.

Another mailed a check and asked me to pay some tuition for someone — anyone, she didn’t care — who had fallen on hard times. She didn’t ask their name; they never knew hers either.

Hugs are more frequent; differences don’t feel as different. And it seems as if people use the word “JOY” far more, wishing it, feeling it, sharing it, living it.

As our lives move into whatever season is next, I’m hesitant to give any of that up.

So I’m making a resolution. When it all finally comes down, I’m planning to display one Christmas ornament, give it a place of honor, a year-round home where we’ll see it, talk about it, and hopefully remember to be the person He “believes” we can be.

Dear God — Thank you for this new year and another new chance to be better. Amen.


George Valadie is the president of Notre Dame High School in Chattanooga.

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