Like a worn and tattered Santa suit, Christmas has started to fray a little at the edges in recent years. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a wonderful time of the year. The first snow, putting up the tree, the beautiful decorations and the sweet music are great. Maybe my malaise is a result of just getting older. I’ve seen 60 Christmases. That’s a lot.
Since I was 8, I’ve had a hard time with Christ’s birth – the true meaning of Christmas for many of us. On a cold, southern Indiana Saturday afternoon, my dad told me that there was no Santa. It didn’t take me long to make the connection. If a big fat man in a red suit couldn’t use flying reindeer to deliver toys to the world, then maybe, just maybe, the birth of a poor Jewish kid in a barn thousands of years ago couldn’t really have saved the world. Fool me once, but not twice. Hey, I hope I’m wrong.
Then there’s the whole gift-buying thing. Every year I participate in ritually mandated gift exchanges. So I will have 10 running shirts instead of nine. I will save 50 bucks at a restaurant with my gift card if I don’t lose it. Someone will get a lime-colored electronic device to replace a tangerine-colored one. It’s all decorative debris headed for some downstate landfill. To be sure, for some a new winter coat is essential. I’m not talking about them. I’m talking about me. I have enough junk for now. Most everyone I know has enough. Just what is the point of all this? Do we ever have enough stuff?
On top of everything else, my dad died in March. He loved Christmas. He decorated his house until his late 80s. He dressed up as Santa for my kids. I can see him now in his holly tie with the battery-powered berries flashing red. But he’s not here this Christmas.
There’s hope in the very energetic presence of my 15-month-old granddaughter, Lily. This only her second Christmas. I watch the unfiltered joy, awe and excitement she brings to the lights, the trees, Macy’s. She gladdens my heart. She takes me back to when the three boys had to sit on the stairs wearing their robes and animal-shaped slippers while we checked to see if Santa had come. But she takes me even further back to my childhood, peering into the dark of our living room in the small house on Indiana Avenue. It’s 3 a.m. and I’m straining to see if Santa came so I can go wake everyone, but fearing that maybe Santa will arrive while I’m up. That would be really bad. I retreat to my bed and count to 60, 60 times, then go and peer into the dark living room yet again.
Christmas reminds us that we were all young at one time, and we all live in a time of great possibility when wonderful magic things can happen to us. So for this Christmas I’m going to see the world the way Lily sees it. In this world, there’s no debate over public options and carbon credits. There’s no unemployment or war. There will be time enough for all that after Christmas. Lily is about touching Santa’s beard, marveling at the moving lit-up deer on the lawn and laying her head down on her little plush dog to rest up for the next wonderful sights and sounds of this special time. It is a good place to be.
My very best to everyone (including those of you who wrote mean things about my column) for this and every season.
John Hubbuch, an Indiana native who moved to Oak Park in 1976, is a retired lawyer. Hubbuch served on the District 97 school board and coached youth sports. He is the father of three and grandfather of one.