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JIM HENDRICKS: A Christmas gift worth keeping

OPINION: There is a piece of Christmas that, once received, you'll always want to keep

Jim Hendricks

Jim Hendricks

The New Year has been rung in and, understandably, a lot of people would like to get the holidays, particularly Christmas, behind them and return to a sense of normalcy.

Me? Well, I have to admit I’d like to hang on to a piece of Christmas, or, more exactly, a peace of Christmas.

While there’s a lot of talk about peace on Earth at Christmastime, there’s not much of it, really. The holiday season is anything but a succession of silent nights. There are lights to be seen, music to be heard, events to be experienced and aromas to be deeply inhaled. From Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve, there’s an entirely different mindset at play than at any other time of year.

No matter how hard you try to find the true meaning of Christmas, the trappings around it do just that. They trap you. Running around looking for gifts, trying to work out schedules with family and friends. Oh, and they still expect you to show up for work every day, which results in paychecks, which are convenient things have for the gallant purposes of buying of gifts and such.

Truth be told, few of us get real printed-on-paper paychecks in this age of electronic everything, but the terminology, like a worn-out sweat shirt, is simply too comfortable to give up.

And as long as truth is being told, I grew up being a fan of the season, the rushing around included. My wife, Cheryl, and I early in our marriage came up with a compromise in which I’m not allowed the say the word or mention anything about it from New Year’s Day until the Fourth of July, which, by odd coincidence, has become the approximate time that merchants suddenly realize the summer solstice has indeed passed and, in subtly increasing increments, begin promoting Christmas shopping.

Technically, I suppose, writing this particular column for publication on this particular day could be wrongly construed, most likely by Cheryl, as a violation of that treaty, though I will contend, should I be pressed on this point, that the actual typing occurred before the dropping of the ball at Times Square and so no transgression, real or imagined, has transpired. Fortunately, we have a mutual attorney friend available to clear up this sort of controversy should it actually controvert.

I passed it up this Christmas because I just didn’t want to deal with the traffic, but one of my yuletide holiday traditions has been to go out to the mall on Christmas Eve, locate a bench and sit down — usually with a lemonade and a chocolate chip cookie — for some people watching. A particular favorite to look out for is Perplexed Guy, the husband or boyfriend who has wasted nearly the whole December waiting for inspiration to strike him hard in the forehead, which it never does.

This subspecies of the Guy Kingdom can be easily recognized, even without a full-color nature guide, by his frazzled hair, glazed eyes, mouth set firmly in mid-frown, distinct aroma of desperation and — this is key — the credit card that is out of the wallet and extended as he walks timidly, looking for someone somewhere to run his card through a machine and magically hand him the thoughtful, meaningful gift that he’d been meaning to think about getting.

But the peace of mind that comes from smugly knowing I’m in the maelstrom of commerce by choice and not necessity, comforting as that is, isn’t what I’m referring to.

For some reason or another, I’d never managed to make it to a midnight church service on a Christmas Eve. As I was finishing up some gift wrapping, I figured I had just enough time to get dressed and finally make the one at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, which was set to start at 10:30 p.m.

It was one of those things where I was glad I made the effort, small as it was on my part. That was particularly true when Marcia Hood, one of Albany’s finest vocalists, sang a moving “O, Holy Night.” The entire service was uplifting, especially the candle lighting at the end to “Silent Night.” What it did was it left me with a good feeling, something that is in too short supply these days.

It was a marvelous way to greet Christmas Day when midnight struck.

Even the ride home was pleasant. Christmas carols played low on the radio. The quarter moon hung low in the sky like the golden bowl of a chalice, and a great field of stars sparkled in the night sky. It suddenly struck me that I’d been smiling for a very long time.

Life is full of problems and we all have them. None of mine miraculously disappeared on this particular chilly Christmas Eve. They just weren’t on my mind for a change.

I was, I suddenly realized, at peace.

And that is a marvelous Christmas gift, one worth holding on to for as long as you can.

Email Jim Hendricks at jim.hendricks@albanyherald.com.