My Favorite Holiday Treat

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Today is Christmas Eve. In my circle of friends and family, this marks the last turn into the home stretch of the season's Holiday parties. This year was more hectic than usual because I had readings and signings to promote the new book*, along with a bit of guitar-strumming and speaking for Lost Voices.


Now when most folks write about Holiday parties, it seems like they just want to gripe about them. I think they are just mad because they have to put on clean socks. Or, in my case, socks. 


But you won't hear me griping. If you know me you know that I love all kinds of parties. I particularly love the kind that feature eggnog with rum in it, tables creaking under mountains of candy and fruitcakes, and sappy Christmas music. Especially the music. After fifty-eight years of listening to Bing Crosby croon "White Christmas," I still can't get enough.


Of course my favorite Holiday treat is what happens all day long on Christmas Eve. 

It begins when I go out in the morning to get an early start on my gift shopping, and I notice that even though there is a lot of last-minute rushing around going on, everyone is in a good mood. This is a pleasant change from the past few weeks. Ever since Thanksgiving people have been getting progressively more cranky as their bank balances dwindle and road salt cakes up on their loafers. 


But when, on this one magical day, a lady in Costco rams me in the thigh with a shopping cart heaped eight feet high with ski jackets, spiral sliced hams, toilet paper and Wii games, she says, "Excuse me! My fault! Merry Christmas," instead of the normal Costco routine of backing up a few feet, grabbing a ravioli with a toothpick in it from the sample lady, then ramming me again.


I was out in public for hours today without seeing a single devout Christian physically threaten a retail clerk for desecrating the birth of the Prince of Peace by saying "Have a nice holiday" instead of "Merry Christmas."


At the Clearance Table in Kohl's the brewing fist fight over the last green and pink stocking cap dissolves into a cordial smile and the words, "No, you take it. I insist. Take it. Don't make me get rough with you. TAKE IT! Ha, ha, ha!"


I'm not sure what is behind this temporary flood of good will. Maybe we're all hedging our bets in the annual "Naughty or Nice" derby. Maybe we're relieved that our credit cards have already imploded so we can't do any more damage. Maybe the part of our brain that gets bent out of shape over little things just freezes solid while we're trudging through yet another slushy parking lot and stops getting bent out of shape. I don't know, but it happens every year, and I like it.


But maybe there is something happening that goes way beyond all the twinkle lights and jingle bells, something deeper than a price-slashing green tag sale with free express shipping and an extra 5% mail-in rebate. Maybe, for just one day a year, we all want to come together.

For some of us the Holiday is as simple as gathering with people we love to wolf down a spiral sliced ham and watch a little football. For others it's solemnly celebrating the birth of a baby who was sent here as God's ultimate gift to mankind. For most of us it is some combination of these things.

My family will all be together tonight. Oh, not necessarily physically. Some are far away and traveling roads that just don't often intersect with ours. Others have gone on to the next great adventure and can only be with us in our memories. 


But one way or the other, we will all be together. Those who are here in the flesh and helping us demolish that ham can also help us hold onto the very best visions of the ones who can only be with us in our hearts.


So I'm thinking that all those people in the stores today, stressed by their individual problems and the expectations of the season, yet shrugging off their anger and impatience, do have something more in mind than staying on Santa's "Nice" list. I'm thinking that they are just getting a jump on the real party by inviting us strangers - just for a moment - into their own hearts.


What a nice place to be. Merry Christmas!


* Helpful Holiday Hint - if Santa didn't bring you a copy of What I've Learned So Far... Part I: Bikes, Docks, and Slush Nuggets, I know where you can get one!


Copyright © 2009, Michael Ball  

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