By Susie Duncan Sexton

Christmas arrives but once a year -- and years fly by too swiftly! We are manipulated and subliminally motivated by commercialism, expectations, obligations, traditions, and mounting hysteria—and then after an ulcer-producing build-up, the party’s over and next year zips forth toward a repeat performance.

Senator Al Franken often spoke at collegiate commencements, as an adored SNL comic, and repeatedly advocated that students abandon planning their future paths. “Nothing turns out to be what we expect,” he warned. Fantastic advice!

As I shuffle through past cheery greeting cards -- stuffed all about the house -- perplexed by what to do with mounds of them, I question how sensible that particular super-imposed mania might be considering currently obscene postage rates. Sending and receiving, once dear to my anticipatory heart, qualify as forced habitual correspondence losing its charm somewhere along each snaily-maily route.

Degenerated to ordering token gifts through catalogues, I have also discontinued…wrapping! Although formerly horrified by older folks who seemed addled by cumulative holiday seasons and stumbled into living rooms toting “Hefty” garbage bags brimming with bare-naked items to distribute perfunctorily, I’ve become less judgmental. I relate totally.

Recalling peer pressure to measure up somehow with inventive candies, cookies, casseroles, etc., and how extremely competitive those flurries of mindless domestic efforts became among us homemakers, no amount of praise ever matched the energy exerted. Our family quickly and quietly dines out instead.

Observing some who “ho ho ho” all about while far too many others sadly do without, year after year, places festivities imposed upon humanity within a bleak perspective. Rigorous planning weeks ahead, for only one atmospheric evening merging into that special once-a-year-day of December 25th, sheds its luster as Time marches onward and eventually off the page.

Santa Claus himself helped me to progress toward these admittedly cynical deductions. I recently unearthed a scolding letter our own Kris Kringle wrote urging that we remember how very many other children populated our Earth and whom he must visit and to be grateful for the meager gifts deposited under the tree for me and my sister. He shocked yet enlightened us with his message. It was addressed to both of us during a slump in the economy about which we kids were oblivious. Oranges, candy canes, nuts, berries, colored pencil sets, ball-point pens, and trinkets filled our over-sized, thumb-tacked, crocheted stockings, and we probably each received one stuffed animal apiece as well as a communal board game over which to bicker.

Our cozy home, the four of us being together, and our inclusion of the childless, elderly couple next door during Christmas Eve assured very special childhood memories. One year, our elderly neighbor Mrs. Elliott borrowed my rather worn Toni-Home-Perm doll – designing and creating the loveliest of ball gowns. Toni traveled across the gravel driveway for nearly a week and returned to our candle-lit living room, on December 24th, -- wearing a Victorian hat, silk-lined cape and a tiny acorn pendant on a delicate chain around her porcelain neck. She sat atop our upright piano until the spring, reminding us that Christmases need always not follow a pattern. Surprises can happen. Individuality leaves a meaningful mark.

So between Santa moralistically bashing materialism and the neighbor lady kidnapping my doll, early on I learned to scratch my head when childhood pals discussed mandatory, necessary Lionel Trains, Lincoln Logs, angora sweater sets, Betsy Wetsys, or Chatty Kathys. At our house, we shared the wealth as we drove throughout the snow-covered country-side to deliver adulatory tiny packages to our teachers Miss Friskney and Miss Smalley and later to celebrate Christmas Day at my oldest sister’s farmhouse while bearing gifts for my little nephew and nieces. Seldom were any of those parcels trendy nor on a par with merchandise heavily advertised or dictated by Madison Avenue moguls located in faraway New York City.

Truly, times have changed. Must we all march to the tune of the same little drummer boy and want, need, buy, shop, accumulate debt, attend strings of events, crowd evenings with social gatherings, and answer affirmatively to all those who question if we’re “ready for the big event”? Franken is correct. After all of this obligatory activity, much of which goes awry, we box up the decorations and the artificial pre-decorated tree and proceed to the next commercialized holiday all stressed out, usually neglecting to have counted our normal every day blessings. It’s often a period of “sound and fury signifying nothing” while bringing us not one step closer to empathy for others or to an understanding and tolerance for a variety of belief systems around the globe.

One joyous holiday season, I received three long playing soundtrack albums: “Here’s Love”, a musical version of “Miracle on 34th Street”; “Mr. President” starring the usually non-singing cowboy/gangster Robert Ryan, with its Big Apple premiere attended by John and Jacqueline Kennedy; and “She Loves Me” which was my favorite -- based upon the Jimmy Stewart movie “The Shop Around the Corner” – (and will feature our son Roy playing the lead role of “George” this coming year in Ann Arbor!) Plus, my sister Sarah bought me a three foot tall Jackie Kennedy paper doll from Murphy’s dime store in Ft. Wayne with this note attached, “A big doll for a big girl!” While my classmates dated, played basketball, led cheers, etc., I danced around this house as if I were Cyd Charisse, probably more aptly resembling Sid Caesar (and then scissored out Jackie’s outfits!) To quote song-writer Annie Lennox “…a legend in my living room…”

One to always do my own thing, I figure I’ll take a tip from Al and approach this coming frantic holiday season the way I choose, not plan ahead but simply enjoy each day, starting with a refusal to view Thanksgiving as simply a prelude to Christmas…or Christmas as a burden to be over-scheduled with busy-ness. Perry Como, of course, hosted numerous televised holiday specials in the glorious “living color” era of the 60s and 70s, warbling all of our favorite carols and standards one of which, “Christmas Dream”, also introduced a 1974 film entitled the “Odessa File”.

… Crazy things, said and done,
Every single day but one!
Every night should, I believe,
Be the same as Christmas Eve.
Nights should all be silent.
Days should all slow down.
An end to the hurry, the noise and the worry!
And I hope you believe that too!
It’s Christmas, remember?
Does no one remember?
The whole world needs, a Christmas dream …
(`~ lyrics by Tim Rice & music by Andrew Lloyd Webber)


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Read about movies and nostalgia, animal issues and sociopolitical concerns all discussed in my book Secrets of an Old Typewriter - print and ebook versions available. Also available in both formats at Amazon.com

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