Sunday, December 25, 2011

Creating Christmas Magic


I'm not a religious person, I've attended Christmas eve mass a handful of times in my life at best. I do love Christmas though, to the extent that it's pathological. I love the gifts, the food, the planning, the decorations, and the time with family. There's magic in the season for me, and I try and take as much advantage of it as I can.

I'm sitting here up at 4am on Christmas morning, simply taking in the ambiance of a lighted tree with presents spilled underneath it, and stockings stuffed beyond good measure sitting on the table. I've just lit the two holiday candles I bought to add a bit of ambiance to the room and will likely kick off the Christmas tunes around 6:30, or about the time I expect my daughter to venture out of her room. (I actually think she's still sleeping).

I'm nearing 40 years old and could only manage to sleep for about 4 hours, before I knew that there was no use in doing so and if by some chance I was successful, I would miss this wonderful time of the day. See I've been getting up like this (and earlier) since I was about 8. As a child I used to torment my brother who seemed to be immune to the effects of Christmas, I'd wake him up out a deep sleep and force him to engage with me on speculating about what might be downstairs. We played board games together (which likely never happened outside of that night) until we felt it was safe to go downstairs and peek at the tree. We'd spend about 30 minutes quietly moving up and down the stairs listening closely at the door to see if Santa was still there. At about 5am, we'd usually venture out into the living room and peek. Even then I was directing the play, as I'd reprimand him for touching anything or looking too long at that point, we were there to get our stockings and get back up stairs.

From there we'd sit and open our gifts and indulge in a couple treats. We'd usually pass another hour by playing with our toys and then we were back down stairs. At that point, we'd both take a seat. On a good year, that meant having your feet up on the chair, as there wasn't room to put them down, as we had a small living room, and my parents had a knack for spreading presents out from the tree, like it was a Macy's store display.

Eventually as dawn broke, we'd make our way into our parents room and try to rouse them, I can't say we ever jumped up and down on the bed to wake them up, but the hurricane that awoke them from their slumber was at least a category 4. I can remember my father rolling out of bed, grumbling as he rose. By getting up, he let my mom get out of bed a bit slower and started getting coffee ready. Eventually my mom made her way out of the room. In many cases back then, they used to host some family on Christmas Eve, so my parents were usually getting done with presents at about 2am, coincidentally about the time I started waking up.

We spent the next couple hours unwrapping gifts, enjoying hot chocolate, candy, cookies and whatever and just spent the time together. I'm not sure there was a more perfect time spending with my family. My father passed out gifts, as he pointed to things my mother would say, "Yes or No" as she directed the morning. We never found it weird that she was directing Santa's gifts too. After we finished, we headed off to my father's parents and spent the afternoon and evening.

There were a couple years in my teens and my 20's where I didn't have much interest in the whole Christmas phenomenon, but it changed once I got with my wife, slowly I found myself methodically organizing and planning how many gifts to get, what to make, how many wrapping papers was appropriate (and the how they look together under the tree). It was good practice for when we had our daughter, and the first years with the daughter were great, but the subtleties are lost on an infant and even a toddler.

My wife just laughs now, as I explain that there is Santa paper and our paper, and that it would show a lack of effort if there weren't a multitude of different papers to use. I am also a present architect, laying the gifts out under the tree, to ensure it gives off the effect it of a full bounty, and to make sure that the contrast of the papers, meets the mood I'm in (Some years presents that are wrapped in the same paper can be next to each other, and other years, it's an absolute no-no).

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, isn't just the line from a book, while we no longer have a chimney, I can assure you, ours are meticulously stuffed. Fitting in as many components as possible is critical, along with taking advantage of the contours of the stocking design (the round base). There are bonus points, if you secure some stocking stuffers, that are perfect for the top of the stocking, that you can see as it sits or hangs, giving you a feeling like you know part of what's in there.

And that's where we sit, the presents and stocking are out, and I'm awaiting the little one to wake out of her slumber. I'll of course be dictating today, what can and can't be opened, as my mom will later today as well.

I understand that many of these things are a result of the commercialism of Christmas that so many hate, and I won't necessarily disagree. However, when they are shaped up and laid out with family, I believe they can become magical. I will say this to all of the devoted Christians out there that are offended, I would remind you, that most of my favorite activities of Christmas are based on pagan traditions (of which I'm rather fond). These traditions were associated with the birth of your savior in order for you to integrate cultures into Christianity (by less then peaceful ways in many situations). At the end of the day too, it's best parts are the memories I have with my family and the new ones I'm making, likely the greatest gift there is.

So to all those out there, Merry Christmas, or Happy Holidays (for whatever holiday you celebrate with your family and friends), may you have one as filled with magic as mine.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Another news story I find interesting.

I was reading over stories today and found another 'interesting' story or in this case legal issue, that's currently in process. I thought I'd put down a few thoughts on it. Civil rights suit against Cheney Secret Service Agents.

I don't have a side that I feel right about in this one, I'm leaning toward the side of the citizen, although I recognize the Secret Service agents have a very difficult job.

Here are the problems I have with what I can read from the story.

1. At no point does it appear anyone thought that the citizen touched Mr. Cheney in a threatening manner, the issue seems to be whether he admitted to having done so. I'm not aware of the law that states that a person cannot touch someone on the shoulder, regardless of who is being touched.

2. I realize the agents have a difficult job, but I'm not fond of saying that just because their job is difficult they have the right to violate the civil rights of another citizen. The argument that they shouldn't have to worry about being prosecuted for something like this is bs. Many, many people in different occupations have to deal with situations where they could ultimately be prosecuted. Being a Secret Service agent is a great responsibility and there are things that are just part of the job, this to me sounds like one of them.

I'm not excusing the behavior of the citizen in this case, it seems from the quotes in the article that he had every intention of making a scene, and while he does have the right, I do not agree with his approach in doing so. There is a respect for the office, that I believe most Americans forget nowadays, and asking the Vice President "How many kids have you killed today" is meant to be an emotionally charged inflammatory statement.

There is a level of responsibility that I think the aggressor has here as well, and I think he failed at being responsible. I'm not a fan of Dick Cheney, but I can respect the office he occupied, and there are far better ways to disagree and voice displeasure.

Writing this out, I think I've come to a decision on how I feel about this. Bad decision on the citizen's part, he got himself detained and embarrassed by it, which is punishment that about equals what should happen when you make a bad choice. Bad decision on the agents part, and one that needs to be constantly monitored and discussed (as they treaded a very fine line here with probable cause and insinuation of intent to harm). With no charges pressed, I'm not sure the citizen's freedom of speech was violated, so I'll call this a wash.