Monday, January 05, 2009

Little Christmas Stories

As I’ve mentioned here before, MY WIFE and I celebrate Little Christmas. That is, while we have our allotment of the standard Christmas merriment, seeing relatives and giving gifts during the traditional December holidays, we wait until January 6th to exchange presents with each other.

Some of you may wonder why we do this. That’s certainly understandable, given that January 6th receives little play from the merchants and media. As far as they’re concerned, come midnight on December 25th, the Christmas holiday is over. It’s time to push Valentine’s candy and President’s Day car sales down people’s throats.

(Someday, in the not-too-distant future, you can expect to hear an announcer saying something like the following:

“Free at last! Thank God almighty, free at last! Well, OK, we’re not giving away our cars, but it’s as close as we can get! Come on down to our Martin Luther King Day sale! Our sales staff has a dream – of putting YOU in the driver’s seat of a brand new Toyota! You won’t have to march from Selma to Montgomery for Crazy Ed to notice you! Just come on down between now and January 15th, and he’ll ensure your civil right to a deal based on the color of your cash and not the content of your credit report!”

Financial experts might even take into account the failure of some merchants to break even over the Christmas season and start calling it Black Monday.

You might not think that anyone would have the balls, but I wouldn’t be surprised. Give it a hundred years. The folks back in 1905 would never have foreseen Abraham Lincoln as co-star with a talking beaver in an ad for sleeping pills.)

January 6th is, on the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar, The Feast of the Epiphany. In secular terms, it is sometimes known as The Feast of the Magi, the “Three Kings” of Christmas carol fame. It is the date some suppose as that when the wise men visited the infant Jesus and bestowed upon him the gifts of Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh.

The day is also remembered, although obliquely, in the song “The Twelve Days Of Christmas”. Are you one of those people who wondered why there were twelve days of over-the-top gift giving in that song? Well, the actual Christmas season, at least in some Western European civilizations, runs from December 25th until January 6th.

In any case, it can reasonably be argued that the 6th of January is a more correct time to exchange gifts in honor of The Lord’s nativity.

MY WIFE and I decided years ago that it made eminent sense to delay our own exchange of presents until the 12th day of Christmas. In that way, we would eliminate much of the stress associated with what should be a joy-filled celebration with friends and family. We would concentrate on others, during the more traditional Thanksgiving through December 25th time period, and then devote our efforts to each other during the 11 days following.

(This is, of course, another one of the reasons why I get so amazingly pissed off at the folks who want to start the Christmas season some time in October. Not only does it do a disservice to the wonderful American holiday of Thanksgiving [which occurs on the fourth Thursday of November]; it also utterly ignores the rightful 12 days of celebration that occur in December and January. My Christmas runs through January 6th, so if I acquiesce to their greedy mercantile demands, I’ll be singing a stretched out and thinned-to-absurdity Hallelujah over perhaps a 75 day period. That’s far too much water in anybody’s holiday soup.)

Since we celebrate on the 6th, I won’t be at work then, or on the 7th. And, since my only internet connection is at work, there will be nothing new in this space. I won't be spending any of my time during the holiday writing. I'd consider it slightly sacrilegious to do so, thus nothing new here on the 8th, either. You might get something on the 9th, but only if I've got something inside of me itching to burst through my fingers much as the alien burst through John Hurt's stomach. In other words, this may be the last new entry you'll see until the 12th.

I know, I know. I see the river of tears coursing down your collective faces. Just so you truly know that I do care about you, here’s a story that is not about Little Christmas specifically, but IS about Christmas and is also little.


First things first: This is a story about an Irish family. While my name is Jim, and I’m an uncle, I also have an Uncle Jim of my own. There is an Uncle Jim mentioned in this story, but he’s not that Uncle Jim. He is Uncle Jim’s Uncle Jim, making him my granduncle (although some folks prefer the title "great uncle", but let’s not open that can of worms.) It’s all very confusing to the uninitiated. If it will keep you from getting a headache, feel free to think of him as Uncle Aloysius.

When my father was very young – let’s say six - his Uncle Jim taught him a very valuable lesson.

My father had hung his stocking on Christmas Eve, as did all of the family. This included the older relatives, too. And that group included Uncle Jim. Come Christmas morning, everybody took down their stockings and looked inside to see what Santa Claus had brought them.

The usual things were found inside the stockings - little toys, tasty candies, and so forth. Nice, but nothing unusual. That is, until Uncle Jim inspected the contents of his stocking. He turned it upside down, and out rolled a lump of coal and an onion.

While good little boys and girls receive the toys and candies, a lump of coal and an onion are, by tradition, what bad boys and girls receive. Seeing those things come from Uncle Jim’s stocking, my father laughed and laughed. Uncle Jim was a bad boy! He got a lump of coal and an onion!

While my father was laughing, Uncle Jim said, "Oh! This is wonderful! A lump of coal and an onion? These are just what I needed!"

My father thought his Uncle Jim had gone round the bend. How could someone be happy to have received a lump of coal and an onion in his Christmas stocking?

Uncle Jim took the lump of coal, took my father’s hand, and led him to the basement. They stopped at the furnace. Uncle Jim said, "It’s so cold today! This lump of coal is the perfect gift! I can put it in the furnace and we’ll be nice and warm all day!"

Uncle Jim then led my amazed father back upstairs. Uncle Jim took the onion, and my father, into the kitchen. He then chopped the onion, mixed it with celery and some bread and spices, and went on rapturously about how his stuffing for the turkey would have been no good without the onion.

Later on, as my father sat in a warm house eating delicious stuffing with his Christmas dinner, the lesson became permanently burned in his memory. The lesson was this: It doesn’t matter what you’re given. What matters is what you do with it.


Before I leave you, I’d like to share another little story about Christmas. No title on this one; it’s just a general update about someone some of you care about.

My cousin, Dorothy, a.k.a. The Mad Cat Lady Of Franklin (self-described) is doing OK. She still has her many maladies to deal with, but she’s taking care of the homeless cats and the homeless cats are taking care of her.

On Christmas Eve, she found a package on her doorstep. It contained, among other things, a nice book about feral cats. There was also a handwritten note. Well, not "HANDwritten". Perhaps "PAWwritten" would be more appropriate.

The note was in white ink on blue paper, very pretty. I got the story from Dorothy over the telephone, so I’m paraphrasing, but here, in general, is what the note said:

Dear Dorothy:

For many years, you have cared about us when nobody else has.

When we were hungry, you fed us. When we thirsted, you gave us something to drink. When others considered us only a nuisance, you fought for us.

In the cold weather, you try to keep us warm, and in the hot weather, you give us someplace cool to lie down. You gave us names when others just called us names.

Whatever else happens to us, we know that there’s one human being we can always count on to be loving and caring. And, in return, we love you, too.

Merry Christmas!

Your Friends,

The Feral Cats

Now, as much as Dorothy and I might like to believe that the cats somehow developed opposable thumbs and penmanship skills, we think someone went out of his/her way to be really, really nice. Dorothy has a suspicion about who it might have been, but I just wanted to put the story out here and say, "Thank You!" to whoever it was, and let you know that it was appreciated.

Let’s see... What’s the best blessing I could proffer upon you? Maybe this.

May God bless your life with at least as much love and kindness as that which Dorothy shows to her cats.

Yeah, that’ll do it.

Soon, with more better stuff.

30 comments: said...

Jim...your Christmas stories touched my heart as only your stories can! I LOVE your idea of celebrating Christmas on the 6th. Truly touching and meaningful. What a perfect Christmas story 'Uncle Jim's Stocking' is. It IS what you do with the gifts we're given, for sure. And the 'pawfect' letter to Dorothy....heartwarming. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, Jim!

Buck said...

Thanks for the memory, Jim. The Second Mrs. Pennington and I celebrated the Epiphany, as well, she being a relapsed Catholic who held on to some traditions... this being one.

I agree with your intro... the thought of MLK Day sales isn't beyond the pale. At all.

Pat - Arkansas said...

Happy almost Little Christmas to you and YOUR WIFE, Suldog. I observe my Christmas on the 12 days, also. In my growing up years in my parents' home, we didn't put up the tree until Christmas Eve, and it didn't come down until after Jan 6. If I had a tree, which I don't at present, that's the schedule it would keep. I am celebrating Epiphany with a gift exchange with several of my very close women friends tomorrow evening, weather permitting.

I loved the story about grand-uncle Jim and his coal and the onion. It reminded me a bit of one of my favorite stories -- "The Third Ingredient," O.Henry, I believe, in which an onion played an important part. Your uncle Jim knew how to turn lemons into lemonade, and taught a great lesson in the process.

So glad to know that someone out there appreciates what Dorothy is doing for the cats!

I enjoyed your biting humor re: MLK Day car sale.

Ragtop Day said...

I think we may see that MLK car pitch in the next couple of years - heck, they already do it for Presidents Day. I've seen Columbus Day furniture ads, for crying out loud.

Shrinky said...

My big sis' was born on Epiphany (yeah I know, as if one Christmas baby wasn't enough for them, huh?). Hope you have a peaceful and happy one Jim. Both of your true Christmas stories are heart-warming, but I was especially touched by the last one. It's these little anonoymous generousities which makes the heart melt, isn't it? Smile.

Sandi McBride said...

What a wonderful post and a lovely update on Dorothy...I'm with you on Little Christmas...being a Catholic Girl it's a holiday we celebrate, and as my birthday is the 7th, I always received a gift on the 6th that was to be opened at midnight...!

Anonymous said...

Can I tell you how much I enjoyed reading this? From the touching to the hysterical (I watch the beaver/Abe Lincoln ad with a puzzles look on my face every time), loved it. Great idea about Jan 6th. I have one relative whose family does the 12 Days of Christmas thing, and I think it's rather ingenious. Thanks for writing!

Shammickite said...

We aleways celebrated Twelfth Night as the time to take down the Christmas decorations.
That certainly was a nice letter for the cats to write to Dorothy.

Christina RN LMT said...

How wonderful, Jim! Thank you for sharing, and I hope you and YOUR WIFE enjoy your little Christmas.

Jeni said...

I know I've told you before how much I enjoy your posts, especially the stories like these today. All of these were excellent! The one about your cousin, Dorothy, and her work with the cats though -now that one brought tears to my eyes. Isn't that the true spirit of Christmas at work though?
Peace, Happy New Year and enjoy the gifts each day brings you.

Anonymous said...

Imagine a world where we all treated each other as well as Dorothy treats her cats...

Merry Christmas (again!)

Thim :)

i beati said...

I also celebrate by buying myself some little memento the 6th . I can't seem to take my tree down though ...

I love that you dignify Dorothy and don't think of her as the old lady with too many cats.. I too rescue cats even though I prefer dogs and sometimes the finacial end is too much. but someone has to do it ../sandy

Stu said...

I'm a cat-guy, so that was particularly sweet and tear-inducing. Bless Dorothy's enormous heart.

Unknown said...

The lesson was this: It doesn’t matter what you’re given. What matters is what you do with it.

Absolutely. Totally applicable to every single aspect of life. I hope that you and YOUR WIFE do exactly what you want today and enjoy your time off from work :)

Right on for Dorothy, that is so incredibly sweet :)

Saz said...

swell post, never just one thread to your 'stories' they grab us on several levels...thanks great stuff!

Unknown said...

what a lovely story about Uncle Jim (also, have you tried "gruncle?" it works quite nicely when you're in a hurry.)

and thanks for the update on Ms Dorothy. I'm so glad others are noticing her kindness.

Blessings on you and her both.

Janet said...

Back before I had kids who do what they will with the Nativity scene, we had the wise men across the room and moved them slowly until they arrived at the manger on January 6. We usually leave the decorations up until then, although we did have to take the tree out yesterday because it was dried out and becoming a fire hazard. The lights are still up though.

I love love love the story about Uncle Uncle Jim. That is publishable. (Of course, so much of your stories are, you really should consider submitting some to a publisher.

And Dorothy's letter from the kitty cats is too too sweet.

Actually, we could use a bit of a car sale pretty soon - both our cars broke down in December. Again. Time to upgrade perhaps to something built in this century.

I hope you and YOUR WIFE have a lovely lovely Little Christmas, and thank you for including us in it.

Nestor Family said...

These stories are wonderful... Glad your Christmas has been merry and blessings are wished for you, too, for the new year!

~j said...

enjoy your Little Christmas! there's plenty in this post for us to mull over until you come back. =D

Michelle H. said...

It was wonderful what that person did for Dorothy. And it is heartening to hear she is doing okay since the holiday season could be so stressful. Loved the post!

Karen said...

I enjoyed today's post. The Uncle uncle uncle uncle Jim story is the best! Have a Merry Little Christmas!

lime said...

both are wonderful stories. grand uncle jim sounds like a wise fellow. and i am so glad to hear someone did something so sweet for dorothy. that is truly lovely.

thnaks for giving us all a little gift for little christmas.

Hilary said...

Sully, you make me cry. Such lovely stories. It's no wonder you have so much substance to you.. you come from good stock. Beautiful stories, wonderfully told.

Have YOURSELVES a wonderful Christmas celebration together.

SoSock said...

Loved your Uncle Jim's moral lesson.
Sharing life lessons like that is surely more of an act of love than any gift one could give.
I remember when I was very young my father would load us kids into the station wagon every year and we would drive over to the "old money" section of town and check out the fancy decorations. One year - in retrospect I guess it was after my baby sister was old enough to get it - we took a detour on the way home. We drove through the poorest section of town. We may have felt "deprived" after seeing the Buena Vista mansions, but realized before we got home how truly fortunate we were. Whatever we recieved that year came with the sobering knowledge that we were blessed beyond the imaginations of many in our own town, and with an appropriate dose of humility and gratitude.

Angie Ledbetter said...

Even though your prayer features cats *shiver,* it's still a nice one. :)

Neponset River Bridge Dig said...

Great stories here Suldog. Happy New Year to you.

Chris Stone said...

Awww.... what sweet stories. Glad to hear Dorothy is doing alright. And great story about your Uncle Jim.

As someone who is employed in a collapsing industry, I don't like but do understand all the advertisements. Just heard the other day about another shop (production) that is going under. Its a small shop. I know 2 of the people working there definitely need the health insurance, and all of them need the money.

I don't own a t.v. and don't listen to commercial radio, so my exposure to ads is way less. But. I don't know. Its complex.

Peter N said...

Nothing could be "sweeter" than your last post. My goodness!
Hey, two new players coming to the Sox, the Sox from Boston, I think (kidding). Take care, my friend. Your writing is so great.

Cath said...

Loved the Uncle Jim story. Real value in that. Glad Dorothy is doing ok. And also pleased that you and your wife enjoyed your 12 days of christmas together.
Peace and blessings to you too mate.

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