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Published: Saturday, 12/21/2013

COMMENTARY

Over time, the spirit of Christmas moves in mysterious ways

BY MARILOU JOHANEK
BLADE COLUMNIST
Marilou Johanek Marilou Johanek
MORRISON Enlarge

My kids don’t believe anymore. They’re wise to the ruse that comes dressed in red and sporting a full white beard. They know the truth about the right jolly old elf.

December, for the text-til-u-drop generation, is a month for refining wish lists and lobbying to have them filled by parents. On the night before Christmas, when teenagers are finally unplugged and all snug in their beds, it’s not visions of sugar plums that will be dancing in their heads.

My kids probably will fall asleep dreaming of iPhones or Xboxes or limitless gift cards. Dream on, darlings.

Working adults can contribute only so much to the commercial success of the season. Besides, shopping nonstop in a crazy frenzy tends to trample the merry out of Christmas.

Still, for many it’s easier to buy and save than reflect on the wonder that comes once a year. The enchantment that arrives from the North Pole in store malls across the country is unavoidable for families with young kids.

But it’s no longer magical for the older crowd. It was particularly difficult for my son to accept what reality eventually exposed about Kris Kringle.

He felt betrayed, the victim of a cruel hoax perpetrated by his supposedly loving mom and dad. I tried to mitigate his disillusionment with stories of the magic, memories, and miracles that St. Nick always brings like a bundle of toys flung over his back.

My son wasn’t buying it. Neither did I at his age. I’ve been a skeptic since kindergarten — when I’m told I first challenged the established order of things.

But now I believe. Christmas delivers special gifts that no super-discount store can rival. Fifteen years ago, it delivered my daughter, an unexpected miracle her father and I relive every December with misty eyes.

I’m sure you have memories of your own miracles. Some of the most life-changing ones seem to wait until Christmas for added effect, don‘t they?

But that’s when hard hearts soften, when the prodigal son or daughter returns, when the estranged reconcile. I can’t explain it.

But something in the darkest month of the year makes people recall that they’re mortal and flawed and fragile. Something appeals to the better angels of our nature around Christmas.

It nudges us to take another chance on each other and ourselves. Relationships that were ripped apart years ago miraculously are renewed.

Grudges are suspended. Good will wiggles in. The prevailing mantra of “every man for himself” is temporarily postponed.

It happens. I’ve seen it. I’ve experienced it. Strangers smile. Random kindness is extended.

A harried shopper bustles out of a store with packages, and returns with a second thought and a dollar to drop in a red kettle.

Somehow the collective will to share at Christmastime stirs to life, despite the ubiquitous decorations and distractions. The impulse to share memories of Christmases past is also strong.

I recently walked past a shop that featured a silver metallic tinsel tree — circa 1960s — and a color wheel. I had to drag the kids in to see what sat in my living room when I was a child.

Some memories of bygone holidays are better left buried. But others bring warmth to cold December days.

They linger from simpler times, when fantasies were meant to captivate and adults delighted in pretending. It let them remember what it was like to be a kid at Christmas.

Grown-up worries were pushed aside for a day. Many of the beloved Kris Kringles of yesteryear are long gone, but the magic they wove for their children lives on with fond emotions.

The stories and the songs of the season never get old. Neither do the small miracles that bless skeptics and believers alike.

My kids don’t believe. For them, Christmas is one big commercial wrapped around sappy Hallmark TV movies. It is a value proposition with a sum total of benefits.

But they’re teens with a lot of living ahead of them. In time, they’ll experience the magic and miracle of the season. In time, they’ll have their own memories to share and to make.

The spirit of Christmas moves in mysterious ways, but leaves no soul untouched. May your Christmas be memorable.

Marilou Johanek is a columnist for The Blade.

Contact Blade columnist Marilou Johanek at: mjohanek@theblade.com



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