The Spirit of the Season


By Michael Cleary

For almost 20 years, I’ve been writing about my favorite Christmas tree ornament, a glass Santa whose color has nearly completely faded and is pretty thoroughly worn out. This year, its color is more faded than ever, but it’s still my favorite, maybe in part because it’s managed to survive.

It’s been on every one of my childhood Christmas trees. It was on my grandparents’ first tree the year they got married. Its faded colors and worn appearance are not that of a “Jolly Old Elf.” Instead, it seems to embody the spirit of Christmases of the past.

As a young child, Christmas held the same magical quality for me, as it did for most children. Though we didn’t have a lot of money for extravagant gifts, it didn’t matter. To be honest, I only remember a few Christmas gifts.

My most vivid memories are my mom cooking way too much food and baking far too many cookies. I also vividly remember watching “Dracula” with Bela Lugosi, which WGN played every Christmas Day. It was probably easy programming for a skeleton crew at the station. But if I want to feel really nostalgic on Christmas Day, I’ll put “Dracula” on the TV.

On Christmas Eve, we always went out to my grandparents’ house in Herscher. For years, my aunt gave me a silver dollar, wrapped in a small box. Then, when I got older, it somehow transitioned to a bottle of Old Spice cologne. It’s probably been about 35 years since the last time we went to Herscher for Christmas, though it doesn’t seem so long ago at all.

We were a family of five back then. Mom, Dad, my older sister Mary, older brother James, and me. I was the youngest. Over the course of those years, much has changed, as it inevitably does. Of our original five, it’s just two now — my brother and myself.

My childhood Christmases were a bit hectic. Between orchestrated merriment and having to go to relatives’ and friends’ houses, too, there wasn’t a lot of time for quiet reflection and relaxation. These days, Christmas is more quiet. I’m usually at home on Christmas, and I’ll tell you, I kind of like it. I can put on some Christmas music, have a little Christmas dinner, take a nice walk, and generally just do what I want.

Media is flooded with movies, images and messages that can make one feel that a proper Christmas is supposed to be a breathtaking combination of “A Christmas Story,” “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” and “It’s a Wonderful Life.” It’s all too easy to think if our holiday isn’t like in the movies, we are somehow missing out.

In reality, those idyllic Christmases we think “everyone else” is having are usually far from idyllic. I like my quiet peaceful Christmas holiday. It’s taken me almost my entire life to get to this point, and I’m liking it very much.

Things change. Times change. This year, as I unwrapped that worn-out, old glass Santa and hung it on the tree, memories of happy times and sad, the good and the bad, came back to me. Much like the Ghost of Christmas Past, and Present, and Future, too, reminding me that no matter how I keep Christmas, the important thing is to keep it.

Christmas, it seems, is like a glowing candle: Some years, it glows brighter and happier than others, but it is always glowing with the spirit of Christmas, nonetheless.

May you all keep the holiday spirit with a happy heart this season, and may you be blessed with a great New Year.

Michael J. Cleary is Publisher of Farmers Weekly Review.


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