Open your heart

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Bah! Humbug!

I am not afraid to say it. Christmas is all humbug and the time of the year I just want to get over with. You are right when you think I have become an old grumpy man at Christmas, that would rather hide in my little private place and watch as Christmas passes and we can get back to normality.

It has not always been like this.

As a child, I loved Christmas. This was my parent’s fault. They remembered what Christmas was all about. As a child, I believed in Santa Clause and Christmas decorations and presents, but I was taught that the main celebration was the birth of Jesus. The commercial Christmas as we know it was just an extra part of this. If we did not celebrate Jesus, then there would be no Christmas.

My mother loved decorating the house, so we spent the first week of December decorating a huge Christmas tree and filling the house with Christmas decorations. My mom insisted that the decorations that we made at school or at home were in prominent places. The most special decoration was the nativity scene at the bottom of the Christmas tree, which showed the stable where Jesus was born. I could stare at this for a long time. The animals and the shepherds and the wise men, as well as Mary and Joseph, were waiting for the birth of Jesus. The baby Jesus was not there. He appeared every Christmas morning.

We would also write long letters to Santa. My mother would throw shop catalogs on the floor and ask us to write a list. Our lists were very long as we wrote everything that was in the catalog. My mom and dad would sigh when they saw my list and tell that they would be happy to get an orange in their stocking when they were children.

Another major event at Christmas was when we visited Santa at the mall. This was always a scary experience for me, as I had nightmares of Santa with a beard that was falling off him. I quickly could see that some of these Santas were imposters, as Santa could not be at every mall at one time. The fact was that seeing Santa was a duty for me as I did not like it. The long waiting times and then when we finally sat on his lap, he would ask what we wanted for Christmas. Did he not read that long letter I wrote to him? I decided at a young age that I only wanted to sit on the real lap of Santa, not an imposter where you could see he had a fake beard.

On Christmas eve, my dad would take us downtown and give us some money. We would buy some presents for our mother. So my brothers and I would rush around and see who could get the best present. The town would be full of people, many in a panic to buy the presents that they needed. It was a special atmosphere and one that would make me smile. We would use half the money on a present for my mother. She had enough perfume and bath salts for several lifetimes. Then my brothers and I would but candy and sit and watch all the people rushing around. A lot of them were husbands trying to find a present for their wives before it was too late.

The best experience at Christmas was midnight mass. We were tired and could hardly stay awake, but this mass was very special. We each held a candle and sang Christmas songs. The atmosphere was one of a celebration and everyone was so happy. It made me wonder why every mass could not have the same atmosphere. I loved singing Christmas songs. “Silent night”, “oh come Emanuel” and “Oh Holy Night” was my favorite songs. No Christmas was complete without these!

When we came home, We would find that Santa was there and drank his milk and ate the few cookies we left out. The Baby Jesus would also be in the manger showing that Christmas finally came.

We would have to wait until the next morning to open our presents. This was a challenge for us, as we did not have patience. However, we went to bed and hardly slept waiting for sunlight to come. When it did, we all rushed into our parent’s room and made so much noise until they reluctantly would wake up. Then it was time to open presents.

We had so many presents they filled half the room. My mom would kneel under the tree and tell us which pack was ours. The next 10 minutes was tearing gift paper off boxes as if we were savages. We would hardly unpack one Christmas present when mom would give us another one. In the end, we had a small pile of new toys and new clothes and was somehow in shock that we got what we wanted.

The week after Christmas was also special. It was the time of the year when we would visit family and friends that we have not seen all year. There was very little for us to do as children. We would just usually sit and eat the Christmas cake while the adults spoke. My brothers thought these visits were boring, but I thought they were exciting. I loved hearing the adults talk about their lives and what it was like when they were children.

One secret that I had was that on Christmas night when everyone was in bed, I would crawl out my window at about 3 am and sit under a tree with a candle. Then looking at the flickering light, I would sing some Christmas songs. This was my private tribute to Baby Jesus. It was just me in the dark. I always look back at this as a special moment I had.

When I got married, I moved to Denmark. They have done Christmas totally different.

I could never get used to Danish food. The Christmas meal consisted of roast pork, with potatoes, caramelized potatoes, red cabbage and plenty of brown gravy. For dessert, risalamande, a cold rice pudding dish, is served with a hot cherry sauce, traditionally with a whole almond hidden inside. The lucky finder of this almond is entitled to a small gift, which is traditionally a marzipan pig. It was just not the food I grew up with!

Another tradition was dancing around the Christmas tree. We would wait outside the room and a few would light the candles on the Christmas tree. Then we would all come in and say “wow” a few hundred times. Then we will stand around the Christmas tree, and walk around it while we sang Christmas songs. Some of these songs had 20 verses! Of course, we would stop in the middle of a song and discuss what the text should be. This could last more than 40 mins and something that I dreaded.

Compared to how my mother gave out Christmas presents, the way my family n law done it in Denmark was different. In Ireland, it took 10 minutes as my mom gave us all the presents at once. The Danish way was that someone would pick up a present. If your name was called, you got a Christmas hat on and a verse of poetry was read from the person who gave you presents. Then everyone watched as you carefully opened the Christmas present. After this, you gave the giver a hug and said thank you and picked up a present, where the next person did the same. This meant that opening presents took about 5 hours!

Christmas was saved because I had two children. I did the same tradition as my dad has done with me. On December 23, we would go down to the shops and look for a present for their mother. This was a special time for us. We would shop when thousands of other Dads also had the same idea. We would buy one present from all of us. These presents were from the heart as we really wanted to please their mom. After we found the present, we would eat a burger or something like that!

Things changed when I got a divorce. I tried spending the first Christmas with my x-wife and her family. It was a strange atmosphere and I felt like an intruder. I never have done that since.

I have become like Mr. Scrooge since. Christmas and December is just a month I have to survive.

There are a few things I do at Christmas, so I am not totally lost. One is that in December or January, I eat at some restaurant with my children. We call this our Christmas meal. This has become our small tradition and I figure they do not have to feel guilty if they spend Christmas with their mother, as we have had our own Christmas celebration.

At the Childs modeling agency where I work, Christmas starts just after summer, where the children model clothes for the Christmas that is coming. This is usually a hectic time, and it can also be a warm time to model Christmas clothes. However seeing the children in Christmas clothes, pajamas and so forth does create a Christmas atmosphere. We even play Christmas songs during the photoshoots.

I do not buy Christmas presents. I give my children and grandchildren some money. I do not eat Christmas dinner. I usually eat by myself and later during the night, I spend an hour or so with some friends.

So why am I suddenly a hater of Christmas?

I honestly think that Christmas has lost its meaning. It is like any other hallmark holiday such as Valentine’s day or black Friday. Christmas is a time where we buy more than we can afford, eat more than we should, drink more than is good for us and get stressed with so many things we have to attend.

I was shocked this year when a TV station started showing Christmas films in October! This was a bit too much too soon. For me, Christmas should be celebrated in December. I simply do not understand why shops advertise for it so early and why we have to see Christmas films so early. To me, it is a way of some that want us to spend more money earlier than we usually spend it.

This means Christmas has become so commercial. You can really see this when people say Xmas. In reality, they are putting an “X” over the name of Jesus. It seems like they are telling us that the birth of Jesus means nothing. Let us forget all about that and buy and eat as much as we can.

I do not think Christmas is the most important time of the year. Personally I love Easter. It is a time when we can really celebrate something. Jesus died for our sins and rose again. This is also when we have spring, and we can see new life spring up all around us. Easter is more important than Christmas and yet not many people think that.

Christmas is a time for family, to meet old friends and peace. Am I a scrooge for thinking this should be all year?

In the next part of “Open your Heart”. I will tell my thoughts of why I wrote “Kidnapped back home”

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