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Friday, March 22, 2019

The day after Thanksgiving is usually when I begin decorating for Christmas, but on November 25, I turned to my husband on the verge of despair.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t think I have it in me.”

The sound of those words, in my voice, was enough to startle me out of my funk. This may feel like the season of triage, but we are better than our worst fears. Character is revealed not by who we are when things are going our way but in the people we become when everything seems to be going wrong. Never have I been more worried about the future of our country, but I’m no quitter.

For me, hope starts with Christmas.

I traipsed down the basement stairs and opened the holiday storage bins to drag up everything — and I mean everything — with the help of my husband. I could tell by the look on his face that he was a little surprised by my request after I’d just told him I was in no mood, but he’s been married to me long enough to trust the conclusion, no matter how I get there.

A partial list of the holiday haul:

—The fake Christmas trees, plural. The one in the front window holds all the White House Historical Association ornaments. The larger one, in the family room, is laden with decades’ worth of handmade ornaments. It looks ridiculous, and I love it.

—The front-door wreath, which requires my weight in D batteries to twinkle. Leave it there.

—The small wooden crèche from my childhood, boxed with the elves wearing striped pajamas and smiles of hysteria on their plastic faces. The elves originally arrived at our home in the 1960s, wrapped around bottles of dishwashing detergent. I keep thinking it was lemon fresh Joy because that’s what Mom often used, but maybe I just like saying lemon fresh Joy. Anyway, Mom soon promoted the elves to stand sentry next to baby Jesus in the made-in-Italy Nativity scene that rested on top of our TV console.

Only once did I ever suggest to Mom that elves were not in attendance at the birth of Jesus. “Oh, really,” she said as she looped the elves’ arms and sat them cross-legged next to the three wise men. “And you were there, were you?” How does an 8-year-old argue with that?

—The crayon-colored cardboard Santa I made in first grade. His arms and legs are connected to a string that dangles between his legs. Pull it and he appears to be dancing, if by “dancing” we mean what happens after Santa has consumed a half-dozen boilermakers.

The stockings to be hung by the chimney with care, especially because the fireplace is electric and has no chimney and is so hot that our dog, Franklin, starts panting whenever he sits in front of it for more than five minutes, which he often does. We try not to think about what that says about his judgment, as he is perfect in every way. We just slide him toward us and say, “Good boy.”

The stockings are the thing right now, because they force me to keep trying.

After every grandchild’s birth, five times now, I pull out the bin of felt and design a stocking just for that child. I have to update the stockings this year. Leo and Jackie now have hair, and Carolyn and Milo are just old enough to notice the felt faces that will return their smiles.

“Look at that,” I said to my husband this week, pointing to the 16 stockings — of course, Franklin has one — dangling from our mantel. “Look at who we’ve become.”

As is the case with most marriages, we started out so much smaller, but love has a way of helping us grow. For a little while, I’m going to focus on that.

Happy holidays, plural, to those who celebrate. To all of you who are struggling this time of year, may the season land gently.

Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University’s school of journalism. To find out more about Connie Schultz (con.schultz@yahoo.com) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

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4 responses to “Hope Starts With Christmas”

  1. Godzilla says:

    Merry Christmas Snowflakes!

  2. dbtheonly says:

    Godzilla, when I want to say, “God bless us one and all.”, how come you want me to make an exception?

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  3. sigrid28 says:

    In the Christmas pageant in this short story by Grace Paley, “The Loudest Voice” belongs not to one of the Christian children in her grammar school but to Shirley Abramowitz, who ends up narrating while the other kids pantomime. Speaking loudly,
    as the baby Jesus, Shirley opens the show:
    “I remember, I remember, the house where I was born . . . ”
    Miss Glacé yanked the curtain open and there it was, the house—an old hayloft, where Celia Kornbluh lay in the straw with Cindy Lou, her favorite doll. Ira, Lester, and Meyer moved slowly from the wings toward her, sometimes pointing to a moving star and sometimes ahead to Cindy Lou.

    Later in the story, Celia’s mother visits Shirley’s family after the school play:

    That night Mrs. Kornbluh visited our kitchen for a glass of tea.
    “How’s the virgin?” asked my father with a look of concern.
    “For a man with a daughter, you got a fresh mouth, Abramovitch.”

    “Here,”
    said my father kindly, “have some lemon, it’ll sweeten your disposition.”

    They
    debated a little in Yiddish, then fell in a puddle of Russian and Polish. What I understood next was my father, who
    said, “Still and all, it was certainly a beautiful affair, you have to admit,
    introducing us to the beliefs of a different culture.”

    “Well,
    yes,” said Mrs. Kornbluh. “The only thing . . . you know Charlie Turner—that
    cute boy in Celia’s class—a couple others?
    They got small parts or no part at all.
    In very bad taste, it seemed to me.
    After all, it’s their religion.”

    “Ach,”
    explained my mother, “what could Mr. Hilton do?
    They got very small voices; after all, why should they holler? The English language they know from the
    beginning by heart. They’re blond like
    angels. You think it’s so important they
    should get in the play? Christmas . . . the
    whole piece of goods . . . they own it.”

    In my version, her father has the final word:

    “Ho!
    Ho!” my father said. “Christmas. What’s the harm? After all, history teaches everyone. We learn from reading this is a holiday from
    pagan times also, candles, lights, even Hanukkah. So we learn it’s not altogether
    Christian. So if they think it’s a
    private holiday, they’re only ignorant, not patriotic. What belongs to history belongs to all
    men. You want to go back to the Middle
    Ages? Is it better to shave your head
    with a second-hand razor? Does it hurt
    Shirley to learn to speak up? It does
    not. So maybe someday she won’t live
    between the kitchen and the shop. She’s
    not a fool.”

    I
    thank you, Papa, for your kindness. It
    is true about me to this day. I am
    foolish but I am not a fool.

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