A Memorable Gift

Now that the Christmas Holiday is here, and there are 364 more shopping days until the next one, it’s time to consider the memories.

In the days leading up to this Christmas, I took some time to recall my other fifty-nine Christmas Days. I tried to think of those many gifts I received and remember.

I had to think a moment.

I do recall one gift from when I was about twelve or thirteen years old. A time when I considered myself sophisticated by having outgrown the need for Santa Claus. My parents got me an electric guitar. A gift that was so far beyond my expectations as to make it seem impossible.

Of all the gifts, I can still see that moment in my mind’s eye as the reality of the instrument in my hands took hold. I am sure they experienced some buyer’s remorse as I fought to learn Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, and a host of other bands not on my parent’s playlist.

It is this single gift that I can recall with little effort.

Now I know for a fact I received hundreds of Christmas gifts over the years. Gifts from family and friends who spent time and money picking out things for me. I know they put much care and thought into the process.

And yet, despite knowing this, I cannot recall them without great effort.

I do recall the faces and voices of those who, once being a big part of Christmas, have now passed away.

But I do not remember the gifts.

I remember the family gatherings around Christmas.

But I do not remember any of the gifts, given or received.

Of all those many gifts, long faded into the fog of hidden memories, there are few I remember.

But I do remember the moments of Christmas. The moments of waking on a Christmas morning and making your way to the tree.

The faces of my parents at the excitement of sharing Christmas with a child.

The first Christmas with my wife as we started our own traditions.

The first Christmas with my daughter, just a month old, who had no idea of what all our excitement was about

The many more Christmases as my daughter went from an infant to a young woman.

She is now married and hosting Christmas as her own. Yet all those gifts vanish into lost memories.

These things I remember. Not the gifts, not the giving, not the receiving but the people that I shared those moments with.

This I recall.

We forget that these gifts are but the dust of life and our time with those we care about will pass with alarming speed.

Hold onto the memories of the things that matter, not the memory of things themselves.

All these years my subconscious knew what was important. It preserved the important memories and hid away the insignificant.

Perhaps it is time to pay attention.

The Christmas Dragon: Part 10

A Return to Elvish Magic

Max bounded off the wall, whacking his head on the roof of the cave in his excitement. He howled like a baby.

“Max, stop whining, we’ve got work to do.”

He rubbed his head and bent lower. I waved to the others. “Gather ‘round, I have an idea.”

They listened as I explained my plan.

“Will it work?” the old Elf asked.

“It will if we believe it can. But we have to face Iris.” I looked at all the Elves and reindeer. Some looked hopeful, others unsure. To pull this off, I had to make them all believe.

I whispered in Max’s ear. “I need light. Any ideas?”

Max glanced around, then a big smile crossed his face. He waddled through the crowd to a large boulder in the middle of the cave floor, swishing his tail to move the group back. Satisfied they were at a safe distance he reared up and shot a flame at the rock.

The heat turned the rock red hot. The glow illuminating the room. Max smiled, proud of himself and his fire. I climbed onto his back and looked at the group. The eerie red glow lit their anxious faces.

I wasn’t sure what to say, but I knew it mattered. Then, I heard my Pa’s voice echoing in my mind. “If you believe, you can achieve.” I took a deep breath and let the words come from my heart.

“Christmas is not about things you get or stuff you have. Christmas is about making others happy. The spirit of Christmas doesn’t come in a box or wrapped in shiny paper. Christmas is being loved and being with the ones you love.

“Christmas is not just one day, it is the days leading up to it, the days after it, and the days all year long until it comes again. Christmas isn’t a time or place. It is every time and place if we keep it in our hearts.”

I had their attention now.

“The Ice Queen thinks by keeping us away, by holding us here, she can stop Christmas. She’s wrong. As long as we have Christmas in our hearts, she can’t win. Santa flies around each year to remind us of this, but he wants us to feel the spirit of Christmas all the year.

“All of you do more than just play a part in Christmas. You are Christmas. Iris can never take that away.

“When my grandfather gave me Max, it wasn’t just because he knew this day would come. It was because he knew he was giving me the spirit of Christmas to hold in my heart always.”

Many of those looking at me nodded. The dull grey of the cave brightened a bit.

“To remember Pa and Nana and everyone who has been before us. To share those memories and hopes to all of those to follow. That is the spirit of Christmas.

“Max reminds me of who made me what I am. It’s not the power of the dragon that will rescue Christmas, all we need do is remember to believe. Never let the spirit fade no matter what others do.

“I, for one, will always believe.” I stood on Max’s back turning around in a circle to make sure they were all with me.

“Are you ready to believe? To keep the spirit of Christmas alive?”

Heads nodded. Reindeer pawed the icy ground. One Elf started to sing. Others joined in. With each passing moment, the cave grew brighter. Icicles melted. The red and green of the Elves clothes showed once again.

cave crack wallA shudder, like an earthquake, shook the cave. A loud crack echoed off the walls as a vast crevice opened. Iris and the wolf stormed into the cave.

“Thought it would be that easy, didn’t you?” Her hissing cold voice thundered off the walls. “We’ll see how long they believe after I finish with you.”

A blinding flash of light flew from her hands, surrounding me. I was lifted off Max’s back and into the air. I tried to struggle, but the magic was too strong. In a blink of an eye, Iris flew back through the crevice, dragging me along. The wall slammed shut behind me.

I was alone with the Ice Queen.

 

TO BE CONTINUED

The Christmas Dragon: Part 9

Remembering to Believe

It was hard to think. Elves and reindeer stared at me. Max leaned against the wall, following me with his eyes as I paced the room. He had this look of anticipation on his face like any moment I would announce I knew how to escape.

No matter how much I paced back and forth, Max still had the look of certainty.

I, on the other hand, was filled with doubt. If we could fly, Max and I might blast our way out. His fire-breathing talents had toasted trees in the woods around my house, but we had never tested full power. The problem was in here, there was no room to fly.

One of the Elves came over to me. He appeared older than the others although it’s hard to tell with Elves, they all look mostly the same.

“Joe, can I ask you something?” he said, hands folded in front of him.

I stopped pacing and looked at him. “Sure, what is it?”

The Elf glanced around as the others gathered behind him. “We are here because, well, some of us started to wonder what happened to the spirit of Christmas. When the reindeer disappeared, we worried it meant the end of Christmas. It seemed that all over the world people had forgotten about us.”

A small tear trickled from his eye, zigzagging down the lines of his face. “The Ice Queen used that against us, and we ended up here. What I…” he waved his hand around, “what we all want to know is, how did she trick you here? Don’t you still believe in Christmas? Because if someone like you no longer believes, maybe the Ice Queen is right.”

I studied all the anxious faces. Each of them waiting for what I would say. Me, a ten-and-a-half-year-old boy. I thought for a moment. I knew whatever I said would affect how things worked out.

“Yes, I still believe. I came here because it’s what Max and I have practiced for, knowing this day would come. I came because we are a team and we must save Christmas. I came here because it is the right thing to do, no matter how scared I am of the Ice Queen. So yes, I believe.”

As the words came out of my mouth, a small piece of rock fell from the wall. No one saw it except Max and me.

dark caveMax stood and smiled. The cave brightened ever so slightly.

It was then I knew. I knew how we could save Christmas.

 

 

TO BE CONTINUED

 

 

 

The Christmas Dragon: Part 7

Mount Doubt

The journey to Mount Doubt was long and hard. We crossed frozen rivers, deep valleys, and steep mountains. As we drew closer to Mount Doubt, the colors faded from the land. The snow, once sparkling and shiny, lay dull and grey. Majestic evergreen Christmas trees turned brown and lost their needles.

treesThe land was frigid and barren.

Then, rising in front of us into the clouds like a giant beast, loomed Mount Doom.

Frank signaled for us to stop. As he climbed off the polar bear, it ran away. Whimpering and crying.

“What’s wrong with him?” I asked.

“No living creatures come here. The place is filled with nothing but doubt and gloom.”

I glanced at the others, then swallowed hard. El, Cornelius, and Bumbles all tried to pretend they weren’t scared, but I could tell they were.

“You’re sure the reindeer are here?” I asked Frank.

“As sure as I can be.”

“What does that mean?” El said, moving to stand in front of Frank.

“Yeah,” Cornelius added. “What does that mean? You said you found the reindeer.”

Frank pointed to the ground. “Look for yourself.”

We all looked and saw the hoof prints of reindeer, lots of them, all heading toward Mount Doom.

“Why would the reindeer walk here on their own?” I asked.

“I am guessing here, but it had to be powerful magic. The only one I know of with such magic is Iris the Ice Queen and she lives here.”

“Now what?” I asked. “Do we climb Mount Doom?”

Frank shook his head. “Not we, Joe, you. From here on it’s just you and Max.

At the sound of his name, Max sprung to his feet, pawing at the ground and stretching his wings.

“Well, at least one of us is excited,” I said.

El stepped in front of me. “No way, Frank. Wherever Joe goes, I go.”

“I am afraid that won’t be possible, El.” WolfIn the flash of an eye, Frank turned into a snarling wolf. All the dead trees began to close in around us. We scrambled for a way out. Even Bumbles wasn’t strong enough against all the trees.

A voice, screeching and cackling, rose out of the snowy mist. “There’ll be no saving Christmas now. Come along nicely and join your reindeer and Elf friends.”

The branches of the trees wrapped around us. I saw El manage to snap off a limb, but five more replaced the broken one. None of us could move.

I felt myself being lifted from the ground.

“No, stop. Put me down.” I screamed. I tried to break free. Max was lifted into the air as well. I could just see his face; the rest was covered in branches. He managed to wink and smile. I could hear his voice in my head.

“Don’t worry, Joe, I’m here with you. Just believe in what we have to do.”

As we started to move, a dark cave appeared before us. The trees carried us into the darkness, just before we headed further in, I turned to see my friends struggling to get free.

I wondered if I’d ever see them again.

 

 

The Christmas Dragon: Part 6

The Mysterious Elf

The group, led by Cornelius on Bumble’s shoulder, made its way north. The wind howled, and Cornelius had a hard time finding his way.  He filled in Joe and El on the latest.

“Right after the reindeer vanished, Elves started to disappear. One minute they’d be hard at work, singing Elf songs and building toys and the next they’d fade away.” Cornelius shook his head.  “Santa says they stopped believing in Christmas.”

“How can an Elf stop believing in Christmas,” I asked. “I mean, they are Christmas.”

Bumbles stopped short. Cornelius patted him on the shoulder. “I know, buddy, I’ll explain it to him.”  He jumped down from his perch and waved me over.

mountain“Christmas lives on because we believe in it. The moment you stop believing, the spirit of Christmas fades a little. The fewer people who believe, the more it fades. Maybe those elves think we won’t be able to save Christmas. I don’t know. But we are going to try. Aren’t we?”

I looked at El, then back at Cornelius. “But I’m just a kid.”

“Yeah,” Cornelius gave out a laugh, “a kid with a giant Christmas Dragon.  I think you’ll do.”

El laughed, Max laughed, even Bumbles laughed which shook snow and fur all over us.

“Hi,” a voice said, interrupting the moment.  We all turned to the sound. There stood an Elf staring at us from the back of a polar bear.

El and Cornelius moved in front of me. “Who are you?” El said, her eyes narrowed as she studied the strange looking Elf.

With a slight bow of his head, he replied, “My name is Frank, Santa sent me to find you.  We have no time to waste. You have to follow me, I found the reindeer.”

El took a step toward the Elf. “What kind of name for an Elf is Frank? How come I’ve never seen you? I know all the Elves.”

Frank disappeared for a moment, then reappeared standing next to Max and me. El and Cornelius had to turn around to watch.

“Joe, I need you to trust me. You and Max are the only hope we have. I can get you close to Mount Doubt, but you’ll be on your own from there. Are you ready?”

El stepped between Frank and me. “Hold on there, pal. How can we trust you? I’m not sure this is a good idea.”

Frank leaned around El to look me in the eye. “Remember what your grandfather said, Joe? He said you must believe. Remember?”

I nodded, remembering Pa’s words when he first gave me the dragon. “I’ll go with you. I know it’s the right thing to do.”

“Not without us, you’re not,” Cornelius said. He and El stood with Bumbles behind them as reinforcement.

Frank nodded. “We can all go to the valley before Mount Doubt. But from there, it will be up to Joe to do the rest.”

“I don’t think so,” El said. “wherever he goes, I go.”

“And us too,” Cornelius added, “we are a team.”

Frank disappeared again and reappeared on the back of the bear. “I’ve no time to argue, follow along if you like, but you’re on your own.  My job is to guide Joe to the mountain. His job starts once we arrive.” He tapped with his right foot, and the bear turned and began to run. Looking over his shoulder, he said, “I will do what can to protect us all, but if I can’t the most important thing is Joe and Max, understand?”

El glanced at Cornelius. “We can take care of ourselves, Frank, I don’t need you to protect me.”

Frank shrugged, “up to you, let’s go.”

The group of five headed off into the raging blizzard and vanished in the snow. The shadow of Mount Doubt loomed in the distance.

TO BE CONTINUED

 

The Christmas Dragon: Part 4

Flying Lessons

“Whoa, Max, whoa,” I screamed, trying to slow him down. El laughed. I think even Rudolph laughed. I didn’t. Max dove and spun. Climbed into the sky, then rolled in the air.Boy on a Dragon

I was terrified.

“He’s not a horse, Joe, whoa will not work.” El flew alongside, sliding up to whisper in Max’s ear. He slowed down and leveled off, gliding through the air with just a slight jostle at each beat of his wings.

“Better?” she asked.

“No,” I yelled, my arms wrapped tight around Max’s neck. “I don’t want to die,”

“No one’s gonna die,” she grinned, “as long as you pay attention. Okay? Relax. Enjoy the ride. How many people do you know get a chance to ride a flying dragon?”

I sat up just a bit, looking around. The sky was a deep blue, I knew I should be cold this high up, but I wasn’t. I felt warm. El slid up alongside me.

“Ready to try a few things?”

“I think so.” I was scared, but I did my best to pretend.

Believe it or not, flying a dragon is kinda easy. Just a few commands to learn, a couple of touches with the hand to steer, and I was flying a dragon.

We’d practice every day, all day, until school started. Then, I had to sneak out the window at night to continue to practice.  Once, my mom almost caught me. I had just climbed back in. Max was halfway in when my Mom knocked on the door.

“Can I come in?”

“Ah, well, can you wait a minute I’m just getting into my pajamas.”

“Joe, I’m your mother. Nothing I haven’t seen.” The door opened. I stood there still fully dressed.

“A new kind of pajamas I see,” Mom said.

“I, ah, I was just getting started.”

“Why is the window open? It’s cold in here.” She started toward the window. Max was half in and half out. His eyes grew wide as he tried to back out before….

Down came the window, right on Max’s hand.

“Why is this window stuck?” Mom said as she slammed it again.

Up until that point, I’d only heard Max speak in a quiet voice. He yanked his hand back and let out a roar like a jet plane.

Mom pushed hard on the window. “What was that?”

I shrugged, “probably a plane or something.” I stood next to her, watching Max clutching his hand and spinning in the air. His wings made the trees sway and the bushes shake.

“Let’s pull down the shades, shall we?” Mom said. “Why don’t you put on real pajamas and get to bed, it’s late.” She closed the blinds, kissed me on the head, and walked out. “Don’t stay up too late reading, early day tomorrow and it’s supposed to snow. Looks like a White Christmas this year.” She closed the door on the way out.

I waited a couple of minutes until I heard Mom and Dad talking downstairs, then opened the shade. Max’s face filled the window. eyesHe still clutched his hand to his chest.  I opened the window as quietly as I could.

Max flew in, curling up into his spot, which was almost all of my room, and put his head on my bed. “If she wasn’t your mother I would–.”

“Max, mom can’t see you. It’s not her fault. Next time when I say time to go in don’t waste time. Just come in.”

Max gave a harrumph, closed his eyes, and ignored me.  I yawned and fell fast asleep.

“Joe, wake up. Wake up.” A voice whispered in my ear, and someone shook my arm. I opened one eye. “It’s too early, Mom. I’m still sleeping.”

“Joe, it’s El. We have to go.”

I rubbed my eyes and sat up. Max was standing up, rocking back and forth. El stood at the end of my bed.

“What’s wrong?”

“Time for you to go to work, something’s happened at the North Pole.”

That got my attention. “What happened?” I looked around. “Where’ Rudy?”

“That’s the problem. Santa needs you and Max. Rudy and all the other reindeer are gone.”

TO BE CONTINUED

 

 

Santa’s Other List: Thoughts for the Twelve Days of Christmas

Most of us are familiar with the famous lists kept by Santa Claus. As children, we strive to be on the nice list.

As the hormones of puberty arise, we respond to our new-found sexuality. We live in hope that those we find attractive are on the naughty list. There is an irresistible draw to stray a bit.

Through parental intervention, shit luck, positive pregnancy tests, emergency room visits, or one too many rides in the back seat of a police car, most return from the dark side.

Or do we?

I think there is a third list.

The Numb List.

We become numb to the spirit that is Christmas.

We become numb to wonder, excitement, and hope.

We become numb to life in exchange for living.

When we are most suited to understand opportunity in our lives, we settle for becoming numb to the world.

We ignore injustices inflicted on others, if it has no effect on us.

We ignore the growing gap of the haves and the have nots, if we see ourselves content with our life.

We take offense at those who would cause us harm, yet stand idly by as others face harm.

We immerse ourselves in our iPhones, iPads, and iWorlds. Substituting email, tweets, and texts for human interaction.

Think about it. When was the last time you had a conversation with a friend? One that didn’t involve emoticons or videos of dogs riding on the backs of elephants?

I think the “I” in idevices stands for idiots. Or worse, impotent.

We’ve become “useful idiots” to our devices. They have made us impotent to making a difference in the world.

We are all on the numb list.

Numb to feeling any real emotion for our fellow humans.

Numb to the spirit of Christmas, or any other myriad traditions, that once were so important to us all.

Numb to being human beings, in a vast universe, open to unimaginable possibilities.

We are on the precipice of an unprecedented change in this country. We need to pay attention, lest we lose everything to ignorance and blustering intolerance.

Now is not the time to be numb. Now is not the time to be nice.

Now is the time for reclaiming hope. Yet, I fear it will go unheeded. The numb list is a comfortable place to be for most.

If that is the case, I prefer to rejoin the naughty list. Make noise in the presence of things that are wrong in the world.

Laugh with the sinners, not cry with the saints. At least they lived a life, not tolerated an existence.

Christmas Traditions: Variations on a Theme

There is a commonality shared among many families around Christmas or other special holidays. They have traditions. Long held, choreographed, well-established traditions passed down generation-to-generation, by which they celebrate holidays.

We do not. I like to think of our traditions as non-traditional. Think of it as a Jazz improvisation of Christmas instead of the Handel’s Messiah version.

We like to wing it.

Each year a little different from the year before, much of this determined by the latest cast of characters.

When our daughter Kelsey first joined our non-traditional traditions, it added to the wonder and magic. Christmas consisted of mountains of presents, requiring hours of wrapping, followed by the unforgettable wide-eyed expression as she first saw the gifts.

That was just her first Christmas; it got bigger and more magical after that.

Over the years Kelsey has gone from the small, little, squirming, bundle of wonder into a remarkable young woman.

She stands on the cusp of a new period of her life; she is engaged to an equally remarkable young man. Soon, if they are as fortunate as my wife and I, they will create their own Christmas traditions. Whatever they turn out to be.

This year’s celebration of Christmas Eve consisted of much good food, small gathering of family, and watching Charlie Brown’s Christmas and The Muppets Christmas Carole.

The Muppets have the best lines.

…light the candle, not the rat! Light the candle, not the rat!

 I told you, storytellers are omniscient; I know everything!

 Hoity-toity, Mr. Godlike Smarty-Pants.

And our personal favorite, which I suppose comes as close to an annual tradition as anything else,

…and Tiny Tim, who did NOT die…

Therefore, our Christmas tradition will continue to vary year to year. Over the next few years we hope to add a few new cast members (subtle hint), and create some new variations on the theme. (No pressure there Kelsey and Charles, take your time, we can wait for a bit)

Our non-traditional tradition always includes wishes to all for a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Enjoy whatever it is you do to celebrate this time of year.

….Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men…as Linus would say.

 

Life Lessons from Yukon Cornelius

I am one of the fortunate ones. I grew up during the last Age of Innocence.

Technology did not rule our lives. We did not spend our time bent over a device named for a fruit. We picked fruit from trees. I realize I could not be reaching those of you reading this without technology, but I still lament the invasiveness of it.

We had toys, games, and books. None of them robbed us of the joys of scraped knees, torn pants, bee stings, catching frogs, and exploring the woods. Sharing real experiences with real friends, not virtual ones.

In other words, living life.

We did not need an app to play ball or fish, we had bats and gloves and fishing poles (even if it was just a stick.)

We did watch television. All three channels, until the snowy screen of those UHF channels arrived. Harbingers of what loomed in the future.

TV time began at 6 pm with the news, followed by two or three of our favorite sitcoms. Breaking news meant something important or tragic happened, not a reading error at a beauty pagent.

As we grew older we earned the privilege of staying up for “Late Night” TV, the late show ending at midnight. Playing of the National Anthem, a few shots of Navy Blue Angels or Air Force Thunderbirds, then nothing until morning.

Technology has robbed us of the joy of anticipation. Be it a letter in the mail, an annual showing of a movie, or TV specials. It would seem nothing is special anymore.

We looked forward to the annual broadcast of our favorite shows. Not watching it over and over on demand.

For me, I remember three the best.

The Wizard of Oz

Charlie Brown’s Christmas

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Each of them made an impact on our lives.

The first time I saw the Wizard of Oz on a color TV. Magic. If there is anyone under the age of fifty reading this, they are probably trying to figure out why TV’s came in different colors.

Linus’s speech about the meaning of Christmas. Memorable. Too bad most have forgotten it. Every time I hear Vince Guaraldi’s Linus and Lucy theme, I see Linus walking across the stage, the single spotlight on him, and he explains with just a few words the true spirit of Christmas.

For me, the one that made the most lasting impact, even without me realizing it, was Yukon Cornelius from Rudolph.

He lived a simple life. All he needed, he carried with him. When he went shopping it was for “cornmeal and gun powder and ham hocks and guitar strings.”

He knew what mattered. Living for today, be loyal to friends, and forgive your enemies. He chased his dream daily.

Of the many nice songs to come out of this show, my favorite was when Clarice sings to Rudolph, “There’s always tomorrow for dreams to come true.”

Life has a way of demonstrating that such sentiment, while touching, is false.

As many of us know, and some of my family are reminded of every December 22nd, tomorrow is promised to no one.

So, adopt the philosophy of Yukon Cornelius. If it does not fit on a sled, you do not really need it. If you have a dream, pursue it today.

Call a friend, see your family, get out and meet someone new. Do it today, spend your time wisely.

For while dreams may come true tomorrow, perhaps a call, or a letter, or (I hate to admit) even an email or a text could bring a smile to someone today.

Do not wait for a dream to come true while you have the gift of time right now.

Merry Christmas, HO HO HO, Happy Holidays, and all that stuff.

Killing Christmas

We are, all of us, killing Christmas.

We are engaged in the destruction of fellowship, good will, and a wish for happiness for all by abandoning rationality, tolerance, and understanding.

This once uplifting time of the year fallen victim to our insistence on highlighting differences, rather than embracing them.

It is us versus them.

We are on the side of good; they are on the side of evil.

If you are not with us, you are against us.

Does it really matter if one says Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays?

Of course not.

Yet some would have us believe respecting differences is in some way an abandonement of our own beliefs.

Or that making an effort to understand differences is a sign of weakness or surrender.

Nothing could be further from the truth or less in keeping with the spirit of Christmas.

The term Christmas may have originated in a particular religious philosophy, but the spirit it represents crosses all faiths and philosophies.

This world is at a crisis stage. Not because the threat facing us is any worse than others but because we face a choice of how we respond.

We can either move ahead as a race of intelligent, rational, and understanding beings or fall back into the violence of our past.

Differences make us better. Seeking to eliminate those differences diminishes us.

The Spirit of Christmas is universal. We do it a great disservice by ignoring that fact.

We are killing the true spirit of Christmas. We need to stop before it is too late for all of us.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Fröhliche Weihnachten, Giáng sinh vui vẻ, or Live Long and Prosper, does not really matter how you say it as long as you live it.