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Our Views: Sweet silent night

Busy weeks of Christmas preparation give way to a welcome day of peace

POSTED: December 25, 2011 1:00 a.m.

It's Christmas Day, finally the time when families can gather and enjoy the blessings of the holiday minus all the heavy lifting that comes in the weeks before.

As you read this, you're either pausing before unwrapping gifts or you've already littered the living room with colored paper, ribbons and bows. Either way, most of the work is done, except for the carving of the turkey and ham and the frantic search through drawers for batteries.

This is the peaceful time that adults, in particular, look forward to, when the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season fades into what means the most: Family and friends, peace on earth and joy to the world.

It's a far cry from the frenzy that we put ourselves through to get to this point. It started with that ritual known as Black Friday, which began this year before the Thanksgiving turkey was cold, shoppers deploying before midnight to swarm malls and stores in search of bargains.

This year's orgy of commerce led to tales of people being tramped and pepper-sprayed, hardly examples of goodwill to begin the season. Add the recent jostling over Air Jordan sneakers and it's definitely not what the Magi had in mind when they started the gift-giving ritual with their gold, myrrh and frankincense.

The endless quest for boffo deals has gone over the top. Now we read of families willing to postpone the Christmas morning pile of presents under the tree so they can shop the post-holiday sales instead. So yeah, they save a few bucks, but a note from Santa that reads "I couldn't make it" under the tree is hardly what childhood memories are made of.

Even when times are tough, it would seems preferable to have a little something from the heart on this special day than a bigger haul of goods later on. Perhaps that's just old-fashioned.

The list of holiday "to-dos" goes beyond shopping for gifts. There are parties (school and office) and pageants (school and church) to plan for, cookies and pies to bake, presents to wrap, packages and cards to ship, trees and houses to decorate.

Apparently we feel all this exertion is necessary to create a memorable Christmas. Yet it can be an exhausting burden beyond what the jolly yuletide season was meant to be.

It wasn't always this way. At one time, Christmas was more akin to our Thanksgiving of today, centered around family, a nice meal and a day to gather in peace and love. It was a simple day to unwind and count blessings at the end of a year of toil. Only in its modern evolution has Christmas become complicated and laborious, now lasting a whole month or more, sometimes as much a grind as our jobs.

Recall the scene in Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" when Bob Cratchit, beleaguered clerk of Ebenezer Scrooge, was reluctantly granted "the whole day off" for Christmas. The Cratchits spent that solitary but glorious day in the warmth of their modest home, sharing a roast goose and a Christmas pudding and singing together by the fire, nary a mention of store-bought gifts.

True, Cratchit was just a poor clerk unable to afford much, but today's families at the same income level often just plop down the plastic until the debt is piled high. And just the one day off? Well, some offices now close for days or weeks for the holidays, though much of that spare time is spent in a flurry of preparation. So maybe old Bob didn't have it so bad after all.

Even when the practice of giving gifts became more commonplace, Christmas presents once were modest offerings: A stocking full of fruit and candy, baked goods, a homemade scarf or mittens. More involved gift-giving was centered around the children, whose hopeful letters to Santa sought Barbie dolls, model trains and BB guns.

Today, chestnuts roasting on an open fire have given way to the electric sizzle of giant-screen televisions, smartphones and iPods. And the silence of our "Silent Night" is likely to be broken by the "bloop-bleep" racket of video games.

We buy more and more gifts that become more lavish and costly every year, it seems. In fact, if we believe the TV ads, there are some folks who actually wrap a big red bow around a luxury car as a Christmas gift.

Yes, all this flow of capital is good for the economy, and heaven knows retailers and their workers can use the extra business. Nevertheless, we seem to have lost a little something from a simpler time that we may never get back.

Wouldn't it be nice to turn back the clock a bit when Christmas day was a time to focus on things that matter rather than things that clatter? To unplug a little from the flowing current of obligations? To dial down the expectations of trying to make a Currier & Ives tableau out of every moment and just enjoy what we have to its fullest?

Now that the blessed day is here and the malls are finally empty, let's try to set aside the modern trappings and savor the real meaning of the holiday: The birth of a child whose life was dedicated to peace and giving. The giving part we handle OK. Now let's see if we can work up a little peace as well.

We hope you and your family can find that peace this holiday and bask in the joy of the season. From the staff of your friendly neighborhood newspaper, we wish one and all a very Merry Christmas.



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