Do kids watch old TV shows still? “When I was a kid” (yes, I will go there – it’s the privilege of having survived so far), Christmas shows were few and therefore a major event on one of the 3 networks – and if you had a color tv, even more exciting. The biggest of all was “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” – created by the unique artistry and vision of Rankin Bass stop motion animation. Although it was not my favorite – (more on that later) – it was something to look forward to. The song, of course, is fairly short – so the story was expanded with additional characters, and adventures – including the island of misfit toys, where the playthings no one wanted were abandoned and forgotten. Very, very sad …. Like Disney, the storytellers behind those specials knew that tales that touched our heart were not filled solely with happy thoughts.
And, of course, not all 60’s homes – maybe none, in fact – were like the tv sitcoms filled with laughs year-round or shimmering with Christmas lights and goodies as the kiddos awaited Santa. I am grateful for the efforts both my parents made to give us a holiday, in the midst of great challenges; I remember the delight of opening gifts to find unexpected (and hoped for from the Sears wishbook) treasures. The only picture I think I have with my father’s parents is with a toddler aged NormL holding a styrofoam Santa figure, with my brother alongside. And I think the earliest color picture of me is at the foot of a Christmas tree, in our then Vacaville California home, alongside my older brother and our new treasures. I do not remember those moments – but I remember the feeling, the yearning, the hope that “Christmas is coming” brought to my heart, and the carols we sang in the church youth choir, until the big day.
Christmas cards were a mainstay of life then – so many would come, and my Mom would keep seemingly all of them. Some from friends and family I never knew – some with letters describing what was happening with their own families, kids in school – before technology of mass production enabled the use of the sometimes detested, mass produced holiday newsletter. I am glad my Mom kept so many of those handwritten notes – I have been able to share them with the children of the authors, bringing memories alive again, like quiet lights from the fireplace of a long-forgotten winter. I am also grateful to have some of the cards from my Mom to me – remnants not only of her beautiful handwriting, but her heartfelt love. For a few years, our church youth group tried to raise funds by sending us door to door with gigantic volumes of elegant Christmas cards, that you could order with your name imprinted – I found it difficult to walk up to my neighbors doors, often strangers, knock and show the books, asking for an order – probably the earliest realization that I was not destined for a life in sales or public relations!
With the broad availability of pcs, home printing and more, Hallmark and other card manufacturers started to lose business to new ways of sharing sentiments. Recently my husband and I enjoyed a classic holiday episode of “Everybody Loves Raymond” – from December 2001! “Season’s greetings” finds exquisite, bitter humor in the family receiving a relative’s holiday newsletter and responding with a boastful one of their own. We laughed a lot – and I thought about it as I feel the clock ticking on our own communications for Christmas and the holidays. I am happy to say that we still send cards – receiving fewer each year, but that’s ok – and that we have friends who walk all kinds of paths, so some are about Christmas, some about the holidays, and some are just year-end wishes. Time constraints seem to get tighter every year – even in retirement – so I suggested that this year we get the cards out right after Thanksgiving, without a newsletter, then follow up with an email which awaits my attention this week, with a little over 3 weeks until Christmas day. I reached out to my friends who observe, to varying degrees, Chanukah (which came early this year) directly; now my thoughts turn to what to include in a communication to our broad circle of family and friends, that many may only glance at briefly. And time is running out …..
There have been years where I tried to be more creative, taking the rhythm and structure of a familiar holiday carol or song and changing the lyrics to reflect the events of the year behind; one year, I wrote a story that was essentially a follow up to “It’s a Wonderful Life” (my favorite movie), where the older angel and his protégé watched the shoppers in a snowy small town scurrying about their tasks on Christmas eve. I cannot say what year I initially started the habit of writing – maybe 20 years ago, maybe more – and some years, like now, I resorted to email rather than print. I imagine both are mostly passé now – we no longer receive many, and even the “family photo card” seems to be less common – many probably depend on Instagram, Facebook and other media for ease of use, immediacy or other reasons. Yet – there have been years, whether printed or electronic, some who got my newsletter wrote back, saying they were touched, encourage, or somehow warmed by my sentiments – that feedback led me in a way to this blog, and writing to a world of strangers who might enjoy my words – including you.
The past few years, since our wedding in 2018, the newsletter became more of a cooperative effort – so I tend to not be as freeform in my approach. My husband and I have talked about the events of the year that we want to include – nothing surprising there – and I will touch on the fact that he has a major birthday in a month that we look forward to celebrating. There is much to be grateful for; but my heart wants to put something into that email that I find difficult to define. Add to that the need to be respectful – rightly so – that not everyone in our lives thinks the same way about the holidays, or may even be in a place where they feel like celebrating – we have several friends that are facing immediate and severe health crises, others who have experienced loss and depression. And it is somewhat egocentric to think that people we don’t see regularly, who were once a part of our circle of life but who are now less present in every sense, want to know about our lives and the events we enjoyed – or endured – the past year.
Perhaps, in a way, 2021 has been for many of us like being stranded on the island of misfit toys – feeling alone, forgotten, unwanted. Perhaps the news, the never-ending voices of panic and dissension, the latest shocking school attack or string of store break-ins, and the seemingly deepening sense that better days are too far off to see has just worn us down. Thinking back to my church days, even into my adulthood, and the sermons and promises, the certainty and assurances that now seem even more phantom like than Dicken’s 3 Spirits of “A Christmas Carol” or Clarence of “It’s a Wonderful life” – I am not qualified, or even assured within myself, of what to turn to for answers. Yet – it is a kind of faith to still look up, out, and believe that there is a greater hope – a more real, eternal and powerful source of love – that remains in spite of all the turmoil of this era, and this moment in my little spirit.
I have set my goal, for this year’s email to family and friends, to not be one that belongs on the island of misfit newsletters – but to say something that reaches from my own heart, and outside of it, to our readers, in all their different paths of life. But what do I have to offer? Sometimes I get a glimpse of what seems to be a truth, around the corner, just moving out of sight but still calling to me – keep looking, I am here. Was that truth present in a manger? Was it more, or less present, in any of the millions of lives and thousands of gatherings of dissimilar faiths, yearning, reaching, crying out for hope – for peace and reassurance? Do we ignore our desire to somehow, if not grasp with finality, to approach to that sense of a sacred place that some long unused chamber of our being senses but cannot inhabit? Those childhood wishes for Santa came from a deeper place that I think we all share. Whether the readers of whatever I end up writing have some faith, in something, or not – there is something we have in common, and that together we can celebrate as winter begins to deepen.
As I mentioned at the start, my own favorite childhood Christmas show was not Rudolph. I remember the first Charlie Brown Christmas clearly; I detested Frosty, although I cannot say why; and I loved the Andy Williams holiday shows with “Dancing bear” and the ultra large Williams family (along with the Lennon sisters!) in harmony, sweaters, and all smiles by the fireplace. But the one that touched my heart was one that wasn’t entirely jolly, built on a foundation of less than happy family – also from Rankin Bass, the “Little Drummer Boy” as narrated by Greer Garson. Even now, it makes my cry –a lonely orphan, his parents murdered and home burned, bitter at how the world treated him, abused by those who took advantage of him – seeking help, and finding a gathering of wanderers, shepherds, and animals in the night. In 20 minutes or so, he finds a group of very dissimilar people kneeling in awe before a newborn, not understanding why – and he feels his own gift is not fit for a king, not good enough. But he gives from his heart – and like all good childhood stories, reaches a happy ending. The Vienna Boys Choir had a hit recording of the title song, still a standard – but the one I loved is less well remembered. “One Star in the Night”. It is quiet, reverent – and hopeful. If there is nothing else that we can take from whatever holiday observance matters to each of us, surely hope is more precious than ever.
But I feel a kinship to the little drummer boy, uncertain that I have a gift worth offering. It took me a lot longer than that half hour show, but after a lifetime of beating myself (and others) up for not being perfect, good enough – I begin to see how much sometimes I am afraid to give my own offering of mere words, lacking in poetry or unique charm, just to say that I love someone. Because I have not been the model of love that I was taught I should be, I could be – no angel, no wise man, no holy being – and far from what was modeled as ideal within my little world in a time that now seems so long ago – I fear my heart’s attempt to just share my imperfect love, even though I don’t always call, or haven’t seen them in years, will seem like a lie. I have not lived out the love I feel; perhaps few among of has. I am a poor ambassador indeed. Yet I feel that greater love, outside of me, waiting for me to drink it in, and then let it flow on to others somehow still – and I am aware of it as being bigger than myself, or all of us. The love that I feel is like a glow that exists outside the range of our vision but surrounds us, unseen but alive, and enduring beyond the moment, beyond the fears and frustrations, and well beyond the limits of seasons and holidays, rituals and the ancient rooted traditions that seem to take up so much energy and attention without our stopping to strip away the veneer to find the life underneath awaiting our discovery, perhaps, even where we are not looking.
I will have to do some digging of my own to put into words something of what I feel to those who receive, and take the time to read, our short email with holiday wishes. There are many ways of celebrating – and many who just need to know they are not alone, and to be there for them as best we can. Sometimes, I think that for me, writing – this blog, the newsletter, a short note to a friend – is a form of prayer, of connecting with a larger hope. Perhaps in our words, and actions, we get beyond thinking we have “no gift to bring” the act of reaching out and saying we care, we miss you, we love you and we hope all good things for you matters in ways we cannot predict. I will of course listen to my own favorite carols, and reflect on the teachings of my childhood, and the questions of my current years, and the mysteries in the gaps between that seem immeasurable, but there will be moments when what is now, is enough. Whatever your own heart speaks, I hope you can listen and hear the sounds of hope, the quiet of peace, and the comfort of joy along your walk. Thanks for sitting a while with me – I wish you, and those you love, a season of promises realized and dreams reborn – until next time.
One Star in the night … singing silently …
You can hear the music if you listen with your heart.
One Star In The Night, Shown o’er Bethlehem,
Magic in the moment when that lonely star began its lovely song.
Angel’s lullaby … On that holy night, Sung unto a Savior who was born beneath its glow.
One Star In The Night, Rainbow in the dark,
One night to remember; that peaceful night the King of Kings was born.“One Star in the Night”, music by Maury Laws, Lyrics by Jules Bass – from the 1968 Rankin Bass stop motion animated TV Special, “The little drummer boy”
My gift to you …. freely offered, and worth at least every penny! And – wishing you, and yours, blessings and joy in whatever celebrations you share, now and tomorrow.