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That Time Again

PART ONE

It’s that time again, that time again--that time between mid-November and the end of December. Yes, it is that time again, when everywhere you look, everywhere you go, you are reminded that you need to buy something for someone.

That time again, when kids, momentarily, are on their best behavior in an attempt to parley or negotiate a bigger bonus of toys and other gifts. Yes, it is that time again; as the temperature drops your expenditures rise. It is that time again, when you wake expecting the first snowfall. Years ago the first snow could be expected, but the last “white Christmas” in the area was beyond most people’s memory. Now, bright lights and cheerful carols scientifically arranged were required to fill everyone with the spirit of the season, and in doing so, empty everyone’s bank accounts to purchase the latest and greatest hi-tech toy.

“OH, WHAT JOY!” After all, it is that time again, “‘tis the season to be jolly.”

Caught up in the tidal wave of conspicuous consumption, Dave seemed to be tossed about like a cork on a stormy sea. Aimlessly he drifted with the crowds, as he surfed on the crest of that swell of frantic shoppers, dazzled by the bright colored lights and the Christmas decorations. He was deafened by the snappy new seasonal songs and the clanging bells of cash registers and red suited solicitors.

Dave moved along with the flow of the crowd. He moved along feeling lost and empty. The bright lights, decorations, and seasonal music failed to kindle the Christmas spirit in him. He found it hard to believe how his wife, Sue, had so much Christmas cheer. She had been bugging him to start putting up the outside decorations. She was the one that reminded him it was time again--time to start sending out the cards, and not to forget to send the annual Christmas letter.

Sue had been baking Christmas fruitcakes and other seasonal specialties made from recipes she had learned from her mother as a child living in Germany. Dave had to admit that when he was at home with his wife and kids, he felt a certain warmth and joyousness. Sue’s handmade decorations, the fragrance of the spicy cakes baking in the kitchen, the excitement reflected in his two children’s eyes, all contributed to make him feel. . . lucky. Was that the Christmas spirit? Dave was not sure. After all, his family made him feel that way all year long. He thought maybe he was just another victim of the consumption conspirators.

What he felt at home was good, but it was not like what he saw on TV. It was not at all like the visions shown on the commercials. Over the years the Madison Ave. spirit of Christmas became the elusive Holy Grail. Everyone sought to find it, only to discover it had a price tag on it, and must be bought. Wasn’t there something more, something special about Christmas?

His cheeks were flushed from the chafing cold wind. The air had a burning sting to it. He hunched his shoulders, stuffing his hands deeper into the pockets of his fur lined leather jacket. He fought against the chilling wind. It was very cold, much colder than normal. A fine mist in the air added to the discomfort.

The streets were wet and shining. The mist collected on his glasses, making it impossible for him to see clearly. He was tired of fighting the crowds. The frantic activity of the other shoppers depressed him. Three hours roaming the streets after a hard day at work, and nothing to show for his efforts, except rosy red cheeks. Disappointed and chilled to the bone, Dave trudged back to his car.

He had managed to buy a few boxes of Christmas Cards. Sue had reminded him it was never too early to get the cards sent out to all the family and friends. He had thought of hiring a print shop to preprint a Christmas letter for him, but he remembered how much he hated all the mindless preprinted collection of exaggerated accomplishments, those terrible boring Christmas News Letters. In the end he decided to buy simple cards with winter motifs. After all, you still have to be politically correct.

PART TWO

Driving home Dave decided to take the long way, and cruise through some of the residential areas to see some house decorations. Maybe he could get some ideas to improve on the decoration on his home. The number of houses that were decorated indicated he must be late. Dave slowly drove up and down the quiet streets lined on each side by houses trimmed in multi-colored light. Artificial snowmen and sleighs with Santa Clause complete with reindeer and all. There were a few homes with plastic figures holding songbooks and music pumped out of speakers hidden in the bushes.

As he drove, it seemed that everyone was just trying to outdo the person next door. More lights, bigger decorations, everything was just for show. A cold shiver ran down Dave’s spine, as he continued to drive home.

It was late by the time Dave pulled into his driveway. The air seemed a bit colder; his breath was a white plume in front of him as he jogged to the front door. He was pleasantly surprised when the door opened, while he still fumbled with the key in the lock. Sue helped him with his coat, and took the bags into the living room. The house was dark, the kids were in bed, and only a small reading lamp and a fire in the fireplace lighted the living room. The room had a warm golden glow, and Dave was captivated by the way the flickering light played on Sue’s auburn hair.

When she turned to face him her eyes gleamed, and her cheeks glowed in the golden light, as if frozen in this timeless time. Dave could only think of how lucky he was. He had a beautiful, loving wife, and two children that, despite normal childish mischief, were truly delightful. The moment of eternity broke suddenly, as Sue offered him a glass of sherry.

Sue sat next to Dave on the couch watching the fire, and said nothing for a long while. She knew Dave well enough by now, to know if there was something on his mind he would tell her. The popping and crackling of the fire combined with the soft golden glow of the light, and the soothing effects of the sherry revitalized Dave. He put his arm around Sue’s shoulder, pulled her close and kissed her. His hands stroked up and down her shoulder as Sue melted against him.

She could see that Dave had a lot on his mind, and that he was exhausted from the shopping. She snuggled close to him, and inquired about what was bothering him in a whispered voice. Dave sighed deeply, but before he spoke, he noticed both their glasses were empty. He shifted his body to get up, but Sue pushed him back down. She took his glass and went to refill them with sherry.

While she was decanting the dark amber liquid, Dave started to talk about how crowded it was in town. He struggled trying to find words that could describe the way he felt. He sipped the sherry and looked to Sue to see if she understood what he was trying to say.

Sue snuggled closer to him and rested her hand across his chest. She told him that she could see what he was talking about. She admitted that all the glitter and hype of the holidays got to her as well. Then she sighed deeply before she continued. She told him about her childhood, and the great times she had as a child celebrating Christmas with her family.

She slowly moved her hand across his chest as she spoke. Then she poked him with a quick jabbing motion of her index finger over his heart. Laughing she proclaimed, “That is where Christmas is!” Dave gazed deep into her eyes and could see her convection.

He paused for a moment, and finally smiled at her. Perhaps she was right, but it was late and they were both tired. He thanked her for being there for him and listening to him ramble on. They went to bed and found love and comfort in each other’s arms before drifting off into the void of sleep.

Dave’s sleep was filled with dreams. No, there were no ghosts rattling chains to herald ghosts of past, present or future. There were no dreams of angels trying to earn their wings. No miracle on 42nd street, or anywhere else. Nor was a cute curly headed child saved from a hideous death or fatal illness by an overweight bearded person. Not even dreams of modern homeless couples seeking shelter on a dark December night, forced to give birth to a child while living in a cardboard box under a freeway overpass. Instead, Dave dreamed of his childhood, dreamed of his parents, dreamed of the Christmas joys he once knew.

In one dream he remembered riding through streets of brightly decorated houses. Each seemed to have more lights and more objects on the roof and lawn to attract your attention than the one just before. In his dream his mother told him to be careful, “Don’t let the lights blind you to the spirit in your heart. Let everyone celebrate and show their joy in their own way.” Through his dreams Dave knew Sue was right, “Christmas is in your heart.”

PART THREE

In the morning only fragments of the dreams remained in his active memory, but the power of the impressions left behind was too compelling to let slip away. Dave told Sue about the dreams. She was pleased that he was in a brighter mood.

As the family gathered for breakfast, Dave was excitedly discussing how he wanted everyone to work together to decorate this year. His children, Ben 14, and Meg 12 years old, were old enough to start to learn family values. He was not sure how they would react to his suggestion that they contribute to the effort, and at first they did not seem very interested. As it became more and more apparent that their ideas were listened to and actually accepted, they became excited about making plans to decorate the house. Sue and Meg decided that they would work on the inside of the house, and Ben could help Dave do the outside decorating.

“Don’t let the lights blind you to the spirit in your heart,” the phrase echoed in his mind. It was Saturday morning, and high time to get the house decorated. Dave located the boxes of outdoor lights, and the plywood figures of Santa and Co. “Don’t let the lights blind you to the spirit in your heart,” the phrase consumed his thoughts. Dave looked at the pile of tangled light strings, and the insipid caricatures made of wood. This was not Christmas.

He stood with his arms bracing his weight on the workbench, shaking his head. “No, this is not Christmas,” he muttered under his breath. A sudden determination surged through his soul. Dave decided to do something completely different. A kaleidoscope of fragmented images flashed and tumbled through his mind. Suddenly inspired, he turned to Ben and told him they had to make a quick trip to the local hardware store.

They returned home with sheets of plywood, paint, spotlights, Plexiglas, and special tools to work the materials. Working rapidly, they spent the entire day cutting, shaping, and painting. Sue surprised them when she came out to bring some lunch. By suppertime the two men had reached a point where they had to stop to let paint and glue dry. Dave asked Ben to help clean up, and they went into the house for the first time that day.

Dave had not really noticed how cold it was outside until he stepped into the warmth of the kitchen. He had caught a few fleeting whiffs of the spicy baked goods while he had been working, but the kitchen was pungent with the fragrances of ginger, clove, cinnamon, lemon and nutmeg.

His daughter came running up to him and tugged him by his hand into the living room. The open vaulted ceiling of the living room had 10 rough oak rafters, and each was lovingly decorated with holly and pine boughs. At the end of the room was the massive fireplace. The oak mantle was adorned with four giant, red stockings. In front of the big front window, dominating the room, stood a 6 ft. blue spruce. Dave stood in total amazement. He had been so busy he had not taken note of their activities.

Meg told him they waited to decorate the tree because they wanted him to help. Sue hugged him, and whispered that she had an idea to make the tree very special, but wanted to talk to him before they decorated it. She had found the box of Christmas decorations she had brought from Germany. There were several strings of the artificial candle-lights, and she had bought enough replacement light bulbs to get the light sets to work.

While they were out shopping she had purchased lots of blue bulbs to replace all the other colors on the string of lights they had been using over the years. She whispered in his ear that she remembered him telling her about how his mother liked to have only blue lights on the tree, but hoped that the candles would be welcome too, as they were a part of her childhood.

While Dave and Ben tackled the task of getting the lights untangled, Sue and Meg went into the kitchen to make dinner. By the time the food was ready, the men had managed to get the lights distributed on the tree. Dave and Ben were quite pleased with the way the tree was looking, and while they were going around to each light bulb to make sure it was screwed in tightly, Ben got an idea. He was not sure if it would work so he tried to explain it to his father. Dave was not sure if it would work either, but thought it was worth trying. It was very simple. Ben suggested that they use some of the old scratched CDs, and put the stem of the light bulb through the center hole of the CD before screwing it into the socket.

It turned out to be a bit harder than they had thought, as the hole had to be enlarged and a rubber ring was required to prevent electrical shock. Dave told Ben not to say anything about the lights so they could surprise the women. Throughout the meal, Ben and Meg chattered about how much more fun it was to help decorate. Dave said that he would start on the Christmas cards after dinner while they finished putting the ornaments on the tree.

When they returned to the living room the tree was a black silhouette in front of the semidarkness of the window. Ben ran over to the power strip, and turned the lights on. Sue and Meg gasped as the tree lit up. The blue lights with the CD reflectors gave the tree the look of heaven, and the candles looked like stars shining in that blue heaven. Sue, Meg, and Ben eagerly grabbed the globes and bells and other ornaments to finish decorating the tree. The three quickly agreed that only silver and blue ornaments should be used in keeping with the effect of the blue and white lights. Dave turned on the overhead lights and set about writing the Christmas cards.

This year Dave had decided he would hand write a note in each card. He wanted to let the person who got the card know that it was a personal greeting, not some mindless preprinted collection of exaggerated accomplishments. He did not seal the envelopes. As he finished each card he set it aside so each family member could sign the card personally. It took him much longer to do the cards this way, but he felt that a short note to each person was more meaningful than a fast, thoughtless, mechanical, mass production.

When he finished he called the rest of the family over to sign the cards before he put stamps on them. Only after he put the last stamp on the last envelop did Dave return to see how the tree had turned out.

When Dave entered the living room he froze in his tracks. The total effect was overwhelming. A small fire in the fireplace provided a golden glow to the room. The pungent smell of pine filled the air. The tree shimmered in a mystic blue haze, the candles like stars twinkling in the heaven, all combined to send a chill down Dave’s spine. His eyes burned as he fought back hot tears of remembered childhood joy. He could only do one thing, he reached out and pulled everyone close together and hugged them tightly. Dave turned to Ben and praised him for coming up with a super idea. He also told him how glad he was that Ben helped with the outdoor decorations.

PART FOUR

Sitting at the breakfast table, Sue could not tell who was more excited about getting started on the project outside. Both Ben and Dave were huddled together going over drawings and diagrams on sheets of graph paper. Dave explained what he had finished the day before, and was telling Ben some of the things that still needed to be done.

Ben explained that he had worked with Plexiglas in art class, and he learned some really neat tricks. They finished breakfast, put on old jackets, and headed out the door. Meg came up to Sue, and told her that she had an idea for the decorating under the tree, and asked if they could work together on it.

Ben helped drawing the shapes on the plywood, but Dave had the tedious task of using the saber saw to cut the figures out. It was a messy, time consuming job. Dave was very skillful but the figures were difficult and had many tight corners. While Dave struggled with the plywood Ben started to work out a plan to use the Plexiglas to get the best effect possible. He had learned some things about light and Plexiglas, and was sure he could come up with some good ideas. By the time his father had finished cutting the plywood, Ben had a good start on the Plexiglas.

It was much more complex than the design his father had come up with, and Ben was a bit apprehensive about it working. Dave came over to see how Ben was doing. Ben explained how the design was supposed to work. Dave was impressed with the work his son had done. Ben said he needed some help to polish the edges and attach the lights.

Together they worked, and were so absorbed in the project, they did not hear Sue calling them for lunch. When the lights were attached, Dave saw what his son had meant about neat tricks with light. This design was really much better. It only took an hour to get the decorations put up.

After they were finished and had checked to make sure everything was working, they discovered they were hungry. Before they came in the house, they walked across the street to see how the decoration looked. Satisfied with the final outcome of their labors, the two intrepid workers went in to rest and eat.

As soon as the two entered the front door they were attacked by Sue and Meg, and physically dragged over to the center of the living room. Meg was jumping up and down on her tiptoes with excitement. She had spent all day getting all the things she needed together. Sue had helped her by baking some special ginger bread, and the house still was filled with the aromatic fragrance of hot ginger. Sue whispered in Dave’s ear that Meg had come up with the idea all by herself, as she pointed to a beautiful nativity scene under the Christmas tree.

The manger was constructed out of sheets of gingerbread held together with sugar frosting. Dave was more than a little surprised to see “Ken and Barbie.” Meg had carefully made special costumes for her two most favorite dolls for their role, cast as Joseph and Mary. Meg had used the farm animals from her Fisher Price Farm. The role of Jesus was played by some Lego person.

Dave just shook his head in total disbelief, and yet he had to admit it was very good work, and one of the most touching nativity displays he had ever seen. Dave hugged Meg and kissed her. His tears of joy and happiness were not to be stopped. Sue broke the moment calling them to eat. Around the table laughter and chatter filled the air.

When the meal was over, Sue cleared the table. Then Dave took Sue with one hand and Meg by the other, and dragged them out the front door. Ben had gone to the garage to turn on the lights when his father gave him a sign.
Dave shooed them all to the other side of the street. Looking back at their house they could see how magnificent the Christmas tree looked. Then in a loud clear voice Dave called out, “And from the east they traveled so far.”

That was the sign Ben was waiting for, and he turned on the lights. Suddenly their attention was called to the garage door. In the upper left hand corner was a glorious, radiant, brightly shining star. The Plexiglas had a light attached along the top edge, and Ben had cut the material in such a way the light passing through it gave it a three-dimensional appearance.

He used a gold colored plastic decal over the front surface that now seemed to shine like a real star. He had drilled a hole through the center of the star, and the light shining through it seemed to point to a spot on the ground. Two theater spotlights with blue filters cast a shimmering blue light across the door. There were three figures, obviously wealthy men on camelback, seen as if backlit by the radiant star. It was clear they were riding in the direction of the star. Above the trio’s heads, in large block letters, was written:

Wise Men Still Seek HIM

Epilogue

It is true that Christmas treasures are really found in the family. The Treasures found within your own family are greater than those three kings long ago had to offer, yet wise men still seek to share Christmas Treasures. This is my special Christmas wish to you.

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