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new featureAn Out of Country Experience-Part 19
(Please check the archives if you've missed previous installments)

Rebecca L. Morgan
Sales Success
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Tales From The Barstool By: Clint Lien
"The man doth protest too much."
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In My Opinion
By L.N.P.

'Tis The Season

Is anyone else having a hard time getting his or her head around the fact that the Christmas season is upon us……..again? It always feels to me like it was just a few months ago that we were untangling the lights and digging around the ornament boxes for extra hooks. Some may measure out their lives by anniversaries or birthdays (or, for T.S. Eliot fans, coffee spoons), but I guess I measure mine by Christmases. No wonder it all seems to be going by so swiftly.

But first things first. Who was the genius behind putting our two biggest family gathering food fests a mere month apart? Actually, the question was rhetorical; I know the answer. A magazine editor named Sarah Josepha Hale lobbied for 40 years to make Thanksgiving a national holiday. Finally, President Lincoln fulfilled her dream, proclaiming the last Thursday in November as our nation's day to give thanks. Franklin Roosevelt changed it for a while to the next-to-last Thursday in November (retailers must have loved that) but in 1941, Congress (in their infinite wisdom) officially declared the 4th Thursday in November to be the legal holiday we call Thanksgiving.

And we all know that once Thanksgiving's over, it might just as well be Christmas for all the time we have to get our acts together. Just think about all the airfares saved, and the turkeys spared if we lumped the two holidays into one GIANT one. Except that we can't, because Christmas is a religious holiday. You remembered that, right? It's not ALL about shopping! So, that plan is clearly unworkable. How those who celebrate Chanukah managed to get it together this year remains a mystery; the first night of Chanukah happened to fall on the night after Thanksgiving.

So, it's the holiday season. The lawns and exteriors of some homes are already fully festooned. There's a street nearby that's actually called "Christmas Lane" and people come from all over to drive slowly down the street (they have to; it's crowded) marveling at the sometimes tasteful, more often gaudy displays. The ones with life-size plastic talking Santas, a full set of reindeer pulling his sleigh, Rudolph's red nose blinking, and enough garishly flashing wattage to make a serious impact on our power supply. It's truly a festival of lights, in addition to being an orgy of competition and excess so in keeping with the spirit of Christmas.

Empty lots have miraculously sprouted hundreds of fir and pine trees. I heard my first Christmas carol on the radio two days before Thanksgiving and Christmas "specials" and movies have already begun to flood the television lineup and the cineplexes. The malls have been magically transformed into dazzling winter wonderlands, complete with 50% off sales to lure in even the most harried shoppers. Most, unfortunately, will just go deeper into debt, a time-honored Christmas tradition right up there with mistletoe and Jingle Bells.

I realize that I'm sounding Scrooge-like, and that really isn't my intention. I have warm and wonderful Christmas memories just like everyone else. I can still recall the giddy anticipation of going to sleep on Christmas Eve as a child, and awakening to that tantalizing mountain of colorfully wrapped treasures. And then the warmest memories of all, when I played Santa to my own children. There is nothing quite so beautiful as seeing the wonder in your children's eyes when they mysteriously receive the very present they'd written on their list for Santa.

I'm also far from immune to the whole decorating bit. NOTHING tacky, but the scent of the pine needles, the opening of the boxes filled with ornaments, some going back to my childhood, the ceramic angels handed down to me by my mother, the nativity scene; they are always a comfort and a joy. But my favorite part about Christmas, at least as an adult, was always the giving: choosing that perfect present and waiting for the delighted reaction. Unfortunately, for a long time I just couldn't give enough; I was compulsive about it. If I realized that I had bought ten presents for my daughter and only nine for my son, I'd have to go out and buy him one more to make it even. If I thought all my shopping was done, and then discovered that my daughter was really yearning for a new pair of boots, I couldn't stop myself from running back to the mall to buy them. Talk about an orgy of excess; I was a Christmas junkie.

I'm not sure I would have ever been cured had it not been for some financial reversals that hit my husband and me at about the same time that my mom, living on a fixed income, and both my grown children were also struggling. So, about three or four years ago, unwilling to forego gift giving completely, we decided to each buy the others one present, with a pretty low price cap. At first it was a real challenge, much harder than going on a buying binge. But it also made each gift more precious, and left more time to just enjoy being a family. It became more about the gathering and less about the shopping. And no one was still paying off Christmas bills in July.

Two years ago, Christmas was a much more subdued event; we were all still grieving for my mom who had died two short months before. Christmas became even more about just being together, sharing stories with my brother and my kids, remembering how my mother had been the biggest child of all of us when it came to Christmas, getting closer, perhaps, to the meaning of it all.

But it was last year that brought the true spirit of Christmas into our hearts. Due to some peculiar timing, my husband and I were moving out of our home to where we live now on the day after Christmas. In fact, it had been a tumultuous month; we had just moved our entire office and sold our house during the weeks preceding Christmas. Coincidentally, my daughter had also just moved, after ending a six-year relationship, and was temporarily staying with us until she found her new home. My son and his wife were going to spend the holiday with her family in Puerto Vallarta. We were all feeling pretty low.

After thinking about it for a while, I had finally made the decision that it would make no sense to put up a Christmas tree. The house was filled with cartons. We had moved most of our belongings out already, with only some of the largest pieces waiting for the movers. The atmosphere was pretty desolate. Still, it would have been crazy to unpack all the ornaments and then have to worry about taking the tree down in the midst of moving. We all steeled ourselves for a tough day.

On Christmas Eve, my daughter and I did a final run with packed cars over to the new house. When we got back home, both of us burst into tears at what we saw. My husband, knowing how much we both longed for something Christmasy to cheer us up, had strung lights all over the living room. He'd pulled out ornaments and decorated our huge ficus tree. Candles were glowing everywhere, and carols were playing on the stereo. It was the most beautiful sight I'd ever seen. And it had all been done in the true spirit of Christmas….a kind and simple gesture of giving, straight from the heart. I doubt we'll ever top last Christmas. But I intend to do my very best to keep that spirit alive.

Send me your opinions at Lynn@netlistings.com

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