Friday, December 12, 2008

Christmas Spirit

We are in the midst of the holiday season, but are you in the holiday spirit? If so, at what point did you "get" there? If not, when, if ever, will you "be" there? Don't tell me you're the "Bah Humbug" type.

At my house, Halloween usually marks the beginning the holiday season as we enter into the final two months of the year and unpredictably cooler temperatures. We know that after the costumes are taken off, it is time not only to empty last year's Halloween candy from the candy jar to make room for the new candy, but it means that Thanksgiving and Christmas are on the near horizon. At this point, my holiday spirit crescendos from "pianissimo" to "mezzo-piano." But still, with no Thanksgiving carols to sing, I've still a long way to go to fully get into the spirit.

But this year, my holiday spirit was jump started by the local hospital. If you've been reading my blogs, (start the entire story here) you know I recently spent a lot of time (and money) there. With the last of my of 6 surgeries on October 31, I was released on Tuesday, November 4th. As I was being wheeled out by the nurse, we passed by the gift shop which was festooned with the usual Christmas decor: trees lights, Nutcracker dolls, and fragile, overpriced ceramic snowmen. Being in the hospital for 11 consecutive days, I thought I might have gone through a time warp or slipped into a coma for a while. I glanced at my watch to verify what time, day, and month it actually was. Sure enough, Thanksgiving was still three weeks away, but Thanksgiving doesn't sell as well as Christmas, so I guess it DID make sense. Somewhere in the back of my mind I heard "Jingle Bells" accompanied by the sounds of cash registers. Suddenly I emerged into the bright, hot sunlight and I knew that it was November in Texas. More importantly, I knew I was finally getting the heck out of there for good. Somewhere in the back of my mind I heard "There's No Place Like Home for the Holidays." I felt my spirit elevate to straight "piano" level.

Back at home, the holiday spirit took a back seat to pure, unadulterated joy of just sleeping in my own bed (thicker than the 4 inch, plastic mattress of the hospital), taking in the familiar smells of home, and navigating on crutches through the maze of toys and shoes sprinkled throughout the house. Once I got settled in, the spirit rose to "mezzo-forte," a level that was almost noticeable, as we began decorating the house with the colors of Autumn (you can tell a lot about a person by whether he uses the word "Autumn" or "Fall." What it tells you, I don't really know . . ., but I know with a bad knee, I didn't want to think about the word "Fall.") The entire family enjoyed my homecoming, and we celebrated by putting out our Thanksgiving decorations: the ceramic turkey on the fireplace mantle and the colored pictures of the cornucopias my kids made at school on the refrigerator.

Then, wouldnt' you know, a cool front blew through for a half day and the weather outside turned a bit chilly, not "I need a coat" chilly, but rather, "oooh, I'm not sweating" chilly. Walking outside in this type of weather in the early morning on the crunchy brown, dead grass with a warm cup of coffee in one hand and a cane in the other brings me closer to feeling the spirit with each new labored step.

Then came Thanksgiving, a day I really look forward too, not only because of all the delicious food, but because by that time of year, I'm practically BURSTING on the inside from all my pent-up thanks. It's nice to have a day that provides an outlet for all that gratitude. With the food still digesting in my satiated, distended stomach, the holiday spirit hit me hard as I saw the Dallas Cowboys' football game got underway. As the game went to its first commercial, Joe Buck and Troy Aikman, the game's commentators explicitly wished me "Happy Holidays." Their unselfish thoughtfulness sent my heart into sappy, sentimental palpitations. Those are the same two guys I had spent many a Sunday with in the hospital. Now here we were together on the outside. Somewhere in the back of my head I heard "Joy to the World" as my spirit reached "forte."

Since then, as my health has improved, so has my holiday spirit. Listening to Christmas music, attending the kids' Christmas programs, doing some Christmas shopping, Christmas decorating, Christmas Egg Nog drinking, watching a little Christmas television programming on the tube, and the exciting prospect of Christmas bonuses never to come has my spirit rapidly ascending to a fevered pitch. Going through the blow-in fliers of the newspapers with the kids is an inexpensive, fun activity too. As we look through the pages of the Target, Wal-Mart, Toys R Us, and Victoria's Secret catalogs, my son circles nice practical gifts like socks, video games we BOTH enjoy, and the models in the Lingerie catalog. My daughter on the other hand circles everything that is pink, purple, pertains to Hannah Montana, and everything that is NOT pink, purple, or pertains to Hannah Montana.

But being an astute dad with tons of hospital bills to pay and a limited budget for Christmas gifts this year, I have more insightful ways to learn what my kids REALLY want for Christmas by listening very carefully to what they sing about. My son has discovered Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas Is You," and my daughter can't get enough of Gayla Peevey's "I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas." As they sing them over and over and over and over again in the car and at home and in stores and in my sleep, my spirit rises to the same "fortissimo" level at which the kids are singing the songs, but then decrescendos a bit after hearing each song for the 10th consecutive time.

If there is any veracity in their lyrical wishes, I am comforted by how easy it will be to fulfill my son's Christmas wish. In fact, just by being home and out of the hospital, his gift came early. I'd almost prefer, though, to buy the entire Toys R Us catalog for my daughter than try to find and purchase a Hippo, not to mention getting that animal wrapped and under the tree.

And so my Christmas spirit will continue to escalate all the way through Christmas and into New Year's day. With a little luck, the weather will turn colder and the credit card bill will get lost in the mail on its way to me. That would be the ultimate pinnacle of holiday jubilance.

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