Monday, January 04, 2010

A Little Christmas Story




[If you actually take the time to read every word of this, there might be prizes.]

As I’ve mentioned here before, MY WIFE and I celebrate Little Christmas. That is, while we have our allotment of standard-issue Christmas merriment - seeing relatives and giving gifts during the ‘normal’ December 25th holiday - we wait until January 6th to exchange presents with each other.

You may be wondering why we do this. Too bad. What, we owe YOU an explanation?

(Sorry. I sometimes get tired of explaining it all to the yahoos and nincompoops of this world. You, of course, don’t fit neatly into either of those categories. You’re special! You deserve better. If you had had sense enough to go to someplace that could have given it to you, I wouldn’t have complained.)

(Really? Best explanation I can offer is HERE.)

January 6th receives little play from the merchants and media. As far as they’re concerned, Christmas is over come midnight on December 25th. Then there’s that New Year’s thing to deal with, but since the main components of that are gulping down as much alcohol as possible and then having drunken sex with strangers, it sells itself. The next things that need an actual advertising campaign are Valentine’s Day and getting folks revved up to spend their big bucks on President’s Day car sales (although many women are more than happy to shove Valentine’s Day down mens throats without aid of the candy and jewelry manufacturers, some even giving it the entirely hideous nickname of 'Womens Christmas', and if you know anyone like that, I’ll be happy to shoot them for you. That’ll be gift enough for me.)

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

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! It’s 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 all the way to Selma for Crazy Ed to notice you! Just come on down, between now and January 20th, and he’ll ensure your civil right to a deal based on the content of your wallet, not the color of your skin!


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 few years. Do you think folks back at the beginning of the previous century would have thought Abraham Lincoln might someday co-star with a beaver in ads for sleeping pills?)



Where was I? Oh, yes, 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 they 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 be argued reasonably that the 6th of January is a more correct time than December 25th 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], but 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. I’ll be taking off the 7th and 8th as well. It’s my own personal Christmas vacation. 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 our holidays writing. Aside from my general tendency towards sloth, I'd consider it slightly sacrilegious to do so. Therefore, you might get new writing on the 11th, 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.



That IS pretty much what it feels like to me when I have an actual original idea. It's very painful. That's why I recycle stuff so often. Less agony.

In other words, this may be the last new entry you'll see until the 12th, and I wouldn’t put it past me to foist re-runs on you for most of the remainder of the month after that. If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s taking an excuse and running with it.

Ah! 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.

UNCLE JIM’S STOCKING


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. Actually, he’s 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 call him 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, 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 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 picked up the lump of coal, then 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. They went back into the family parlor, where Uncle Jim now picked up his Christmas onion. He led my father into the kitchen. Uncle Jim chopped the onion, and then mixed it with celery, bread, and spices. During all of this, he went on rapturously about how his stuffing for the turkey would have been no good whatsoever without an onion.

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

I’d appreciate it if you’d keep that in mind when you see the parade of re-runs.

Soon, with more better stuff.

(A few of the more perspicacious among you might have recognized that a fair amount of this entry, itself, was a re-run. I appreciate your loyalty, though, as well as your persistence in having reached this final parenthetical without bailing. At the beginning, I said there might be prizes. Well, I only said there ‘might’ be prizes. In reality, there aren’t any, but it’s too late now. You already read every word. Of course, some folk might consider that reward enough. That, and the fact that I offered to assassinate someone for you earlier on.)


50 comments:

Michelle H. said...

Loved Uncle Jim's stocking. It is true. Be grateful for everything you get, even the little gifts. Everything can be useful in its own way.

Now, if you will excuse me, I have to blow my nose from the river of tears.

Hilary said...

What a great Uncle Jim story. Or is it a grand Uncle Jim story? In any event, after reading your posts, I always click away feeling like I've won a prize.

Uncle Skip, said...

Gee, Jim, that's kinda like the kid looking for the pony. I won't retell that story... at least not where anyone can see it.
Our Irish family had a number of Uncle Jims, too.

Cricket said...

Hey Jim - I remember this one - still a great post. I have a Christmas tale or two for you. Maybe better for a PM, might be, ahem, unwise to post.

word veri: lluallyth... I feel like I've died and gone to Wales.

Eleonora said...

Here in Italy–and Rome in particular–the Epiphany is hugely celebrated, and also called La Befana. In older generations kids knew nothing of Santa and waited for her instead. I was planning a post on the old woman that brings Italian kids gifts and candy on the eve of January 6th, but you beat me to it with your Little Christmas.

Uncle Jim (recycled or not) taught a very wise lesson. I'm going to go chop an onion now, and make me some ragù.

Ciao Jim, I always love reading your posts.

Sniffles and Smiles said...

Jim, you never cease to amaze me...Your secret is out...you are a witty, wise, warm, compassionate and extraordinary human being and writer--for all your protests to the contrary!! Happy 12th Day of Christmas, my dear friend! Your post is truly heartwarming and inspirational...it is a gift! Hugs, Janine

Moannie said...

Hey, Sniffles and Smiles...I sussed our Jim out ages ago.

Lovely morality tale and beautifully told.

Happy twelth night to you and THE WIFE.

Ruth and Glen said...

Hmm, can't imagine how we missed this one before but we're glad we caught it this time around. :o)

Warm Wishes for a very Merry Little Christmas to you.

Karen said...

Such a wise man. Loved this.

Maggie May said...

Yeah..... never look a gift horse in the mouth. Be grateful for everything....... coal and all.
The only thing I cannot be grateful for at the moment is the blasted ice on the pavements. Keeping me prisoner.

Nuts in May

Daryl said...

A great grand uncle jim recycle there and a lesson .. and a promise sort of to kill someone for me .. I like this 12 days of Christmas thing .. and I bet you can buy your gifts in a less stressful much marked down way .. works for me .. tho seriously no one gets 8 Hanukkah gifts ...

Ivan Toblog (aka IT) said...

There's a lot to be said for the anticipation that's a part of Advent, the celebration of Christmas and the intimacy of the Epiphany.


and, golly, it's not about consumerism, huh?

I wanna hear about Uncle Skip's pony

Expat From Hell said...

The Fathers of Orthodoxy (and the ever-mealy Episcopalians like myself) celebrate your fastidiousness, friend. A Blessed Christmas to you. I am sure Joseph and Mary's obstetrician appreciate your patience, as well. EFH

Anonymous said...

Ivan - I believe Uncle Skip refers to the story where a little boy steps in a pile of horseshit and says excitedly: Oh boy! Where's the pony! Or something like that.

Buck said...

Previously, in "Suldog Comments..."

The Second Mrs. Pennington... good Catholic Girl that she WAS (at the time)... introduced me to Little Christmas. Epiphany became a special day for us, as well. It's a wonderful tradition.

(If you can do it, I can do it too!)

Eva Gallant said...

great little story! Always enjoy reading what you have to say!

Bonnie, Original Art Studio said...

Your Uncle Jim Story was my present! Thank you and Happy 12th Day of Christmas to you and your wife.

Recycling is good - even in the blogosphere!

Tim King said...

But... There are 13 days from December 25 through January 6.

Confused about the calendar, but loving the story!

-TimK

lime said...

LOL, yes i do recall this particular story but it is utterly worth a re-read. the prize is that the stories you share almost always have a good insight we'd do well to keep in mind.

happy little christmas to you and YOUR WIFE.

slommler said...

I enjoyed the story very much. I had not heard it before...so it was a real treat!!
Thanks
Hugs
SueAnn

Fat, frumpy and fifty... said...

I with Janine Jim, you are big softie...love the post very poignant and wise.....

happy Epiphany to you and mrs Suldog...

Elizabeth Bradley said...

Oh, there was a prize. I have been handed lots of lumps of coal and onions in the previous year, and I discovered that they were a gift, your story reminds me to be grateful for what I do have.

Ananda girl said...

I love that story! I will be passing it along. Thanks. Enjoy your own vacation.

Jeni said...

I like the logic behind the gift-giving between you and your wife. Maintains the true meaning of gift-giving at Christmas and the Uncle Jim story too was another good one that is food for thought -or should be -for all of us. Enjoy your holiday, as well you should.
Peace -and of course, God Jul! (And by the way, my daughter found me a good as new bright red sweatshirt for less than $2 at the local Goodwill Store on Saturday and on the front it has some holly branches and the lettering in white says, of course, "God Jul!" Now how appropriate a gift was that, I ask you? (It warms my body while warming my spirit and my soul too!)

Thimbelle said...

Dearest Jim (and your Amazing Wife as well):

I hope that every day of your Christmas season was as special and warm as onions and coal! :)

XO Thim & family :)

Granny on the Web said...

This has kept me riveted... again.!

How do you manage to keep me enthralled so?

Ah well... some of us have the gift and some don't.

Love Granny

Carolina said...

Wise words, dear Jim. Happy little Christmas to you and YOUR WIFE. Enjoy!

i beati said...

I did not see my card on that wall--- whoops.....

GreenJello said...

Fantastic story. :) Attitude is everything!

(My word verification is humer. Hmmm....)

Janet said...

I don't care how many times you tell Uncle Jim's stocking story, I love to hear it. It's tradition!

"Women's Christmas"!?!?!?!*&^*(&%^

Holy moly.

I have to explain to many people why we leave our decorations up until after the 6th. I like the tradition that you and YOUR WIFE have of gift exchange on the 6th, but I'm pretty sure my kids wouldn't tolerate it. :)

Craig said...

Thanks for this, Jim. It always makes me a little sad to see all the trees out on the curb the morning of the 26th. You can be sure that ours will be up the full time, until tomorrow night.

(And you didn't even mention how convenient it is that Christmas cards, and all manner of 'Christmas stuff', go on sale the 26th. . .)

But yeef. . . 'Black Monday'? You're gonna do time in Purgatory for that one. . . ;)

Cute story about your uncle's-uncle. Reminds me (as it evidently did Uncle Skip, but I apparently have fewer scruples than he does) of the kid who woke up Christmas morning to find a huge pile of shit waiting for him. So he promptly jumped in and started digging thru the pile, exclaiming, "There's gotta be a pony in here somewhere!"

addhumorandfaith said...

What is it with Jim's? In my Scotch/Irish family, I had an Uncle Jim and a brother Jim (my kids' Uncle Jim) and there was a Jim who rode with Jesse James (and my family has roots in the area where he grew up) who had the same last name as us, so the rumor is he was a way back there Uncle too.

Anyway, your Uncle Jim story was a great one. What a wonderful lesson to teach an impressionable little boy.

I have some stories about my Uncle JIm that I've always thought I would share "sometime" so you've inspired me and I'll have to get to work on that.

I also like your idea of celebrating Christmas on January 6. We might have to consider doing that.

Lots of food for thought. Thanks.

Mrs. C. said...

Great post, Sul. And what a good idea. Think I'll stuff some stockings for tomorrow night.

Ericka said...

Fortunately you're a good enough writer that you can get away with reposts. :-P

I wish you and your wife a wonderful little Christmas!

The Things We Carried said...

Jim,

I do love your perspective, I also enjoy your family stories always. Happy Feast of the Magi to you and YOUR WIFE!
xxMere

Grumpy Old Ken said...

One hell of a blog. Puts me to shame. Hope the new year treats you well.

Shrinky said...

Worth the re-telling of, it truly is a great tale, and well crafted (smile). Enjoy the rest of your holidays Jim, I think it is a wonderful idea for you and your wife to exchange gifts on Epiphany.

By a weird coincidence, my sister has a birthday on the 6th of Jan, just as I have one on the 25th December. There is a strong arguement Chirst may have been born on either of these days (as well as on any other of the remaining 363 days, truth be told).

Hope you and yours have a peaceful, joyous day of it, and um.. hurry back!

whitewitch said...

In our family Christmas lasts until the 6th of January 2, which we celebrate as the feast of the three kings. It is after this day, that decors are removed and life resumes its typical pace and atmosphere. Gift giving between members is anytime between the 25th-6th. Like you, the Christmas frenzy of partying and accommodating relatives and friends has got our hands filled to overflowing that the last thing we hardly have enough time and energy left for buying gifts for each other during this time.

Jenn said...

Now see I love New Year's and it has very little to do with getting drunk and having sex with random strangers. Hope you get a chance to read my post about my very fave NYE celebrations when you're back and at it again but if not maybe I'll just be forced to recycle one of my own posts next year. Seems to be the right thing to do sometimes.

Land of shimp said...

It was all new to me, Suldog, and entertaining to the last.

It's funny, I frequently describe some people as being "So tied to the way things must be done, an original idea might do them dire injury." but I wouldn't describe you in that manner.

Alien, what a fun movie. Ushered in the era of the women who kick some series butt. Although Ripley doesn't really do so until all the men are dead, it being the seventies and all, she's right throughout, and I appreciate that.

Plus, there is the cat. How can you not love an orange tabby?

What? What am I talking about, and why? No clue. It's a common problem for me, and for those exposed to it, I'd wager.

My mother was going to be away for Christmas, so she asked that I send her something in January, instead. I agreed and told her we'd all pretend to be Russian Orthodox for the occasion.

Have a lovely holiday.

♥ Braja said...

Ah, Uncle Jim....bless him :)

Uncle Skip said...

I guess maybe Craig has to hear that I decided that since I am now officially... as opposed to by marriage ...a grandfather, I no longer say words like $h!+ because that would eff up the image. That and I want my grandson to learn to swear the same way I did - from his peers.

Urbie said...

I got to the end, but I didn't really read every word -- just skimmed. Great story, though!... Urb

Kathryn Magendie said...

Ha! I cheated - I went to the end first and saw there was not prize *haw haw* -but I still read *laugh*

The "women's christmas" thing made me go "eyewwww" -- I happen to dislike Valentine's Day - ugh.

Merisi said...

It is so nice that for once I don't feel like I am all alone in this world enjoying actually 12 days of Christmas (and as I write this, my Christmas tree is still blinking beside me).

Happy Befana (I won't repeat all I wrote about that one the last time you posted this)

TechnoBabe said...

I don't need anyone assassinated thank you anyway. The story about the lump of coal and onion is something I would like to use in my blog some day. With your permission though.
I like people who celebrate on a day that fits their life in a way that they choose. Like you and your wife.

Suldog said...

Techno Babe:

Feel free to reproduce the story, so long as appropriate attribution/linkage is provided. Always glad to spread goodness!

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