"Pa rum pum pum pum"
Do you know the song that has this word in it? Recently, I asked a number of people what was the best gift they had ever received. All the answers had little stories making the gift special. The best gifts are the ones you cannot see or touch, but you feel warmth and happiness inside. It might be a kind word or a smile. Television and a two-pound newspaper filled with all kinds of Christmas ads for the perfect treasures somehow miss the spirit of giving. Giving from the heart is what defines the Spirit of Christmas.
A few days ago, I listened to a young man practicing his Christmas songs. We were in different rooms, but I heard his music. One song was about Santa's big bag filled with toys for girls and boys. The lyrics include a list of the toys: balls, dolls, little trains, puzzles and wagons. Talking to himself he said, "This is just not right, something is missing."
My thought was, "Yep, today's kids would not relate. Now, if you sang about an iPod, a PlayStation, or a Notebook, kids would be in tune with the song."
Later, when I came into the room where he was practicing I complimented his singing and his focus on perfecting his songs. He thanked me, and asked for suggestions. Laughing, I replied, "I think Santa's bag of gifts is outdated." He laughed, stating, "Yes, things have changed a lot over the years." I think he understated just how commercial the celebration of Christmas has become.
For several different seasons of life, I worked at big department stores during the Christmas holiday season. It was a lot of fun. Every day I wore a different Christmas sweater or dress and a Santa Claus hat. I greeted customers with "Ho! Ho! Ho!" and assisted them. I wished everyone a Merry Christmas, whether they purchased anything or not.
One year I was a sales associate in the "Trim-the-Tree" department. It was a relatively small space with lots of baubles, garlands and, of course, ornaments and always crowded with shoppers. On a cassette player near the cash register, I played Christmas music, especially enjoying playing Barbra Streisand's Christmas Album. It made it all so ecumenical. The customers enjoyed the multi-denominational music and often commented about that choice of singer and songs.
When my younger son was a third-grader he brought me a gift he made at school that I still treasure. It's a plastic two-liter soda bottle dressed like a clown in purple, my favorite color. In the back a small opening holds a little box. In it there is a piece of cotton, a dime and a straight pin. There is also a small piece of paper that reads, "A 'dime and pin' for you, Mom. Love, Douglas." It makes me smile every single year, and I often think about the Christmases we had together with trim-the-tree parties and music we all enjoyed with our friends and neighbors. I cherish those times from so long ago.
The spirit of Christmas lives within me. The "things" that were part of the holiday in my childhood and, again, when my children were young are missing today, but not anywhere near forgotten. There are no trees or cookies; there are no more trim-the-tree parties; I am not waiting for Santa or collaborating with him for my sons. Those things are the accoutrements that promote and excite children about the celebration of the birth of Baby Jesus.
Thinking about Christmases in Nevada I realize that during the last 11 years, I spent many Decembers recuperating from either leg or back surgeries. Every one those Decembers included some surprisingly wonderful visit from someone I did not expect. Each brought joy and laughter to me. One year I was in a rehab hospital after a compound fracture on my leg. I was there for almost three months including Christmas, New Year's and Valentine's Day. I would wheel myself to someone's room or to the place for group events and read upbeat stories to patients. There is no substitute for people sharing time together just talking, laughing, sharing stories or holding hands.
I admit sometimes it is difficult to feel the spirit, and it is true that occasionally I have to make a very concerted effort to feel upbeat about this time of joy, music and love. I do that by sending a cheery message, or surprising someone with something they do not expect. I also love to listen to Manheim Steamroller's Christmas album. "The Little Drummer Boy" has a message each of us can live. What can you give that has no cost but an effort from you that will brighten the day of a friend or a stranger? Do it. It will lift your spirits as well. Pa rum pum pum pum...
• Ann Bednarski of Carson City is a career educator and journalist.