Monday, November 12, 2012

Christmas music and other random thoughts

I was getting the boys off to school in my usual state of semi-consciousness this morning when I turned on the minivan and was jarred awake by Christmas music on the radio. On Veteran’s Day? Really? I quickly turned the station to country music, which was refreshingly patriotic, as it should be on Veteran’s Day.

There are so many things I find wrong with radio stations playing six weeks of straight Christmas music—the least of them being that they recycle the same twenty songs over and over and over again. Blah! It’s depressing, especially since I really love Christmas music of all genres. I came home and put on an Amy Grant Christmas album, because nothing says Christmas-at-home-with-family to me like her and Vince singing "Tender Tennessee Christmas" together, and thought about things.

Radio stations playing Christmas music for six weeks before the holiday are just one facet of the craziness that has become what should be one of the most peaceful, joyful times of the entire year. Extreme commercialism, Black Friday, wish list catalogs, ever-growing lists of people to buy gifts for, Martha Stewart standards of decorating, politically correct holiday cards depicting perfect families in color-coordinated outfits, throwing extravagant parties for throngs of people—the list of things that keep us from focusing on what really matters gets longer every year. When will it end? What I guess I should really ask is, “How long will we let this go on?”

As a child, I thought our family Christmas traditions and celebrations were far from perfect. We never had a lot of money, and I never received everything I asked for. But we baked sugar cookies and gave them to the neighbors. We decorated our tree with ornaments that each had a story. We played in the snow. We shook the packages around the tree and guessed what was inside. We made presents for each other. We sat in the living room for hours with the lights out and watched the Christmas tree lights chase each other around the tree. We had hot cocoa around the table. We spent Christmas Eve reading our favorite Christmas stories to each other. We woke up on Christmas morning to orange rolls and Danish pastry wreaths.  We were together. Yes, we had our squables and all was not peaceful. But now that we are thousands of miles apart, I miss the togetherness most of all.
Christmas for the past few years has been difficult for me. I’ve been going to school full time. It’s hard. I’m tired. When December comes around, I’m not ready for it. I have good intentions, but no follow-through. I spend lots of time and money shopping, when I really want to be spending quality time with those I love. My boys are growing up so, so fast. Have I really ever shown them the magic of Christmas? Have I ever really just sat still with them and watched the snow fall, or watched them revel in the magic of lights glowing on the Christmas tree?
One of the songs on the Amy Grant album is called “I Need a Silent Night”.  (Watch a video of it here.) The album notes say that she wrote it while sitting in a busy mall one December. As I listened to it, I promised myself that this year would be different. I made a short list of presents to buy for my children. They won’t be receiving many toys this year, but they will be getting experiences—skiing, snowboarding and art lessons. Possibly a trip to Legoland. I plan to do most of my shopping online, so that I can stay home and bake cookies and build a Lego city around our Christmas tree. I will still do Black Friday, not necessarily to shop, but to spend a fun night out reconnecting with my best friend. I have made “tickets” for the “Honda Express” and will surprise my boys one night in December by making hot chocolate and driving them around to see Christmas lights instead of putting them to bed. We will be a Secret Santa for a boy we know who would not otherwise be having very much of a Christmas.
Don't start thinking that all will be sugary sweet or Norman Rockwell-esque at our house this December. Peace on earth, good will toward each other is not a concept that my children understand. Just ask our neighbors. My boys will quite likely be disappointed by the smaller pile of gifts around the tree. I am sure that there will be tears shed and doors slammed and fits thrown over Lego sets and remote control vehicles that Santa forgot to bring. But I hope that as the years go by the shared experiences and family time will become cherished memories and traditions that they will want to continue in their own families. And I really hope that those memories do not take place with the radio station’s meager list of twenty so-called Christmas songs playing over and over in the background. Justin Bieber wailing for his sweetheart to come back to him for Christmas? Really? I’m spending today making a playlist that will bring cringe-free, happy memories for years to come—because in the world’s vast store of Christmas music there really are jingle bells ringing, silver bells jingling, church bells pealing (there are a lot of bells), snowmen playing, chestnuts roasting, wise men traveling, families gathering, snowflakes falling, animals talking,  and reindeer flying. I personally hope that I can slow down enough to help my children hear the angels sing about a baby in a manger on a silent night. Because that is what it’s really all about.
Copyright 2012 Laurie Innocenzi