Christmas Comes (earlier) Once a Year
"Time is fun when you’re having flies."
Kermit the Frog
"I will go to my shop and make me a bowl,
and only I will judge its beauty,
and only those I love will share it."
Vannevar Bush, Pieces of the Action
(Jan, 2011) Our first grandson arrived in 1984, and it was a life-changing event. When Christmas came that year, my wife used the occasion as an excuse for unprecedented feats of
shopping. I understood her enthusiasm, but did not share it; for me, the thought of actually going into a store and buying something was too traumatic to consider. So, after many sleepless nights of worry and guilt, I arrived at a solution to the problem: I would go to the shop
and make a gift for him. The idea came as something akin to divine inspiration, and it seemed to work well. He was not able to talk yet, so he accepted my gift with the same expression of mystified befuddlement that he gave to my wife’s offerings. Thus began a tradition.
It worked very well for the next couple of years; weeks of pre-Christmas stress were replaced by a couple of pleasant days puttering in the shop. When the first grand-daughter arrived I happily adjusted by spending an extra day or two at the workbench. But
things were changing; I wasn’t aware of it for a while, but time was speeding up. New grandchildren kept appearing, and before I realized it there were six of them to provide for; and as they got older the presents got more complicated to make. To add to the problem, while time
was speeding up, I was slowing down; everything took longer than it used to. Now, each year Christmas gets here earlier, and for the past three years I haven’t got everything done on time.
It helped some that the oldest grandson grew up and moved to Minnesota; I could make his gift after Christmas and blame the U. S. Postal Service for the fact that he didn’t get it until mid-January. Last year the oldest granddaughter was also away, but I
still didn’t get everything done on time. So this year my wife decided enough was enough, and insisted that I scrap the whole idea of making things and buy presents like everyone else. This was tempting until I realized I would have to go shopping again. Then I started having
nightmares about being trampled to death by crowds in malls or getting locked in a store by evil clerks who wouldn’t release me until I bought the latest computer games and cell phones for everyone. I think the last time I was in a store by myself was in1963; when I saw how much
more expensive everything has become since then, I blacked out and was confined to bed, unable to sleep or eat for nearly a week. I finally persuaded my wife that keeping up traditions was essential to the maintenance of family harmony, so she allowed me to continue making
presents, provided that I promise to start earlier.
It was obvious that planning was required. I estimated that even with time going faster and me going slower, it should be easy to make a present in a week. A few key-punches on my wife’s calculator revealed that six grandchildren at a week per present
would take six weeks to complete, and I could finish them all comfortably if I started early in November. It was a good theory. It also was a good example of the difference between theory and reality; as Yogi Berra once said, "Sometimes it doesn’t always work." In November I lost
two days cleaning leaves from the yard, two more helping my wife with Thanksgiving, one writing my December article for the News-Journal, and two on an unplanned visit to family in West Virginia. December was even worse; there were two all-day field trips with the Audubon
Society, the Christmas Bird Count, putting up decorations at home and at church, several parties and dinners, the usual chores that keep the household functioning, and… you get the picture. As I write this (several days past the deadline), I have finished only three presents and
there are two days left before Christmas.
The kids are big now, big enough to understand that presents are among the least important things about Christmas. We make a fuss about them because it’s fun and brings back memories of simpler times in our lives; but if parents are doing their job right,
even small children who still believe in Santa Claus are starting to understand that health, family, and concern for those less fortunate than ourselves are more important than boxes of stuff under the tree. The stories… the star appearing over Bethlehem, wise men arriving from
the mysterious East, the baby in the manger… are part of our Christian heritage, but people of other faiths and even those of no faith at all will usually agree that Peace on Earth and Good Will toward others are ideals worth hoping for, and celebrating them once a year is not a
For the past few years I have kept the tradition of quoting Pogo’s Christmas poem:
"The gentle journey jars to stop,
the drifting dream is done;
and now we’ll walk, as men have walked
through years not yet begun.
For Christmas is a life-long dream,
and dreams, the stuff of years;
the gentle journey wanders on
through laughter, love and tears."
Christmas will be over by the time you read this, but if you are lucky there will still be some bits of its spirit hanging around the house and drifting through the air. I hope you take Kermit’s garbled advice and have fun as we enter the New Year. I will
spend as much time in the shop as I can, hoping, like Vannevar Bush, that what I make is beautiful, and being satisfied, like Garrison Keller, if it’s pretty good. May your journey into the New Year be a gentle one.
Read other articles by Bill Meredith