In my next life I want to come back as Santa Claus.
I have been a big fan of the jolly ‘ol elf from the North Pole all my life. I love the spirit of Christmas that permeates the entire holiday season. People seem to be happier. I see more smiles on their faces. Their words are more kind and said with more sincerity. I would love to be the person who spreads good cheer all the time and ride around with flying reindeer. Boy, are there some people I could mess with a setup like that.
However, not everyone feels the same zest and enthusiasm for Christmas like I do. There are Grinches out there. There are Ebenezer Scrooges. And there are others who just don’t like anything.
I think there are three different categories of how people respond to the Christmas holiday.
The first one is that people absolutely love it. They will wear ugly Christmas sweaters. They will put their tree up on — or before — Thanksgiving. They won’t take it down until at least New Year’s Day. They decorate with great abandon. Cooking and shopping exhilarate them. They play Christmas music all season long. They get in their cars and gawk at their fellow fanatics’ houses. It takes them a long time to get over taking decorations and putting them away.
The second type is the indifferent crowd. They like part of the Christmas season up to a point. They don’t like the early start to Christmas, and they absolutely hate shopping at this time of year. They are unhappier about the start of the season because it begins too early, but their hearts and souls are too good to be Grinches the whole Yule Tide Season. Like the Grinch, their hearts grow three sizes by the time the 25th comes around and they embrace seeing old friends and beloved members of their family. We all dread the Uncle Eddies of our family (you can’t pick your relatives) but the spirit of the season allows the better angels of our nature to put up with it.
The third type of person hates talking anything about Christmas. They hate hearing about it. They will complain about the large shopping crowds, the early start to the season, the Christmas music and just about everything else associated with the commercialization of Christmas as we have come to know it here in America. This type will often be the happiest on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, but then will be the first to take down the tree and the decorations and store them for a year. For these people, they are more comfortable in following a routine.
I am a member of the first type. After moving to Michigan when I was in elementary school, Christmas was wonderful in a Currier and Ives-type of way. I looked forward to snow in December in the hope we’d have a White Christmas. My Aunt Gloria would take me to the annual Santa Claus parade downtown and we’d look at the magical window displays showing automated elves who talked and moved while Christmas blared on the sidewalk. There was always one window display she took me to that had Santa looking at his naughty and nice list. Depending how I was acting that day she would tell me which list I was on. If she said I was on the naughty list, I immediately straightened up and flew right. Too much was at risk!
She would also take me to a place called Herpolsheimer’s, a department store in downtown Grand Rapids. Mich. The third floor of the old department store was filled with toys, and you could ride a small train called the Santa Polar Express overlooking the toys around the entire floor. For a kid of seven or eight years old, it was heaven.
Those were the days of wonder and unfettered imagination. All the hopes and dreams and even those not contemplated yet were possible. As I grew up in a large family of Polish, German and Bohemian stock from my mother’s side of the family, all the aunts, uncles and cousins would gather on Christmas Eve night for great food, laughter and stories. The adults would play cards and imbibe while we would have our own special time. Those were some of the best times of my life as they were the most innocent. Life had limitless potential and the days were young and long and there was so much yet to do.
Not many years after that, my wife and I started to have children and the family grew to four kids. I wanted to rekindle those joyous moments we had growing up with them. We created our own family tradition of alternating visits to our respective families every other year but when we got home, we created our own snack feasts for the kiddos. Christmas movies and music were on, and preparations for the big night were bright and happy. Cookies were cooked, hot chocolate was set out on the table by the fireplace, and preparations were made for Santa’s arrival.
When it was time to put the kids to bed, I would pull out my copy of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas and read it to my children. When they were young you could just see the wonder in their eyes and their imaginations soaring. After that, it was time to put them in bed, and then Momma in her kerchief would give me the “Honey Do” list: here’s all the toys and stuff to put together in the next six or seven hours. Most of the time it was done without complaint, as we’d watch Midnight Mass and many of the great Christmas classics like It’s A Wonderful Life, White Christmas, A Christmas Carol and even Christmas Vacation later.
I remember one night, however, when my lovely bride brought like 10 different erector-set type toys that I had to put together. As it got later and later into the evening and early morning, I didn’t think I was going to finish. The last toy to put together was the Princess of Power She Ra Castle for my eldest, and it still haunts me to this day. The directions were in French. I became a Scrooge at 4 a.m. and was about to chuck the whole thing when it finally came together. I went to bed at 5:15 a.m., and at 5:45 the little darlings came bounding into the bedroom.
“Come on Dad, get up!” was the usual demand.
Well, I had made a rule for my kids they could not go downstairs until I went down and inspected if Santa had come. They moaned, pleaded and begged me to move faster. The reason I told them I had to go first was so I could turn on the Christmas tree lights, get the camcorder for future posterity, taunt them with tales and visions of what was in the family room while they all squealed upstairs. Finally, after all was ready and the camcorder was rolling, I would yell “Come see what Santa brought!” The pounding of their feet on the steps was louder than a buffalo hunt. The joy and their faces and the cheers and sheer delight was all over the young faces.
Now, they get to see on tape how they were at that age and they just absolutely love it. They worship those years as I did. In fact, they are the ones pulling out the CDs and playing them over and over with huge Cheshire cat grins on their faces
After the presents were opened, it was cinnamon rolls, Polish sausage, and other Bohemian dishes before getting dressed for church. Then off to church and then over to grandma and grandpa’s for more celebration and presents.
The decades have rolled by, and the sand in the hourglass of life for me is running lower than I would like. My children are all in their 30s and they live all over the United States. While I am saddened by not seeing them as much as I would like, I have been blessed in other ways. They now have kiddos of their own, and my grandsons and granddaughters are just entering the phase of wonder and imagination! It begins again for me, and the feelings of those years comes roaring back to me like a waterfall of emotion.
Now Christmas Eve has returned to all the Christmas Eves of my life. This year, when my children gather at their homes with their children in Richmond, Va., Washington D.C., Minneapolis, Minn., and Gaylord, Mich., here in Gonzales, Grandpa Fitzie will get out his old book ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. I will read it to my kids as I have for over four decades, but now I get to read it to my grandkids too. The tradition lives and is being passed on, just like wonder, love and imagination should. I am thrilled I still get to do this and pass the tradition on.
The hopes and dreams of an old man who has not forgotten the joy and innocence of his youth is reborn—if only for one night. No, especially on this night. Because no man or woman who has wonderful children and grandchildren can go through this life unchanged by the unconditional love, affection, trust and support we have given each other and shared. I am truly blessed.
It is my hope and wish that on this Night of Nights that the spirit of humanity and the Blessing of Almighty God will come upon you, your family and your friends.
Merry Christmas everyone, and to all, a good night.