The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Santa talks with a little girl at a Toys for Tots giveaway at the Havasupai village on the floor of the Grand Canyon.

Santa talks with a little girl at a U.S. Marine Corps’ Toys for Tots giveaway at the Havasupai village on the floor of the Grand Canyon.

By Judy Berman

There’s something in the air. The cold quickly turns our breath into a frosty mist. We seem to be frozen in time and space, delayed by long lines and heavy traffic. Despite this, many people are more patient, generous, thoughtful and caring than in any other season.

Even in the dark moments, there is light. For me, this is the most wonderful time of year. I pause amid the rush to savor the quiet, sweet moments.

Once, many years ago, as I walked among bustling crowds, I couldn’t help but smile at passers-by. That didn’t go unnoticed. One young man smiled back, wished me a “Merry Christmas,” and continued on his way.

It’s doubtful he knew the impact of his smile, from one stranger to another. Here and then gone in a twinkling. Yet it has stayed with me all this time. Little do we realize the ripple effect created by random acts of kindness.

Lt. Cmdr. Anthony Savage chats with a veteran at the New England Center for Homeless Veterans during a Christmas dinner visit.

U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Anthony Savage chats with a veteran at the New England Center for Homeless Veterans during a Christmas dinner visit.

Just look around. There’s no shortage of people reaching out to help and care for others.

Drivers are more courteous now. They wave to another motorist, allowing them to merge into the heavy flow of traffic. Shoppers, even worn out by hours of looking for that special gift, often display more patience than humanly expected.

So, what happens to some of those wonderful folks after Christmas? Where do they disappear to? Do they no longer worry about being on Santa’s “naughty” list?

It’s difficult to account for the transformation. For some, the change takes place the day after Christmas when they go to the malls to return some “white elephant,” and then discover the malls are jammed.

That’s when they change into Kathy Bates (as Evelyn Couch) in that scene from the movie, “Fried Green Tomatoes.” She’d been patiently waiting for a parking spot to open up. Before she could pull in, two women cut her off and laughed at her. Unlike the rest of us in this type of situation, Bates got her revenge.

After hearing about the collision, her husband (Gailard Sartain as Ed Couch) said, “What I can’t understand is how you can hit someone six times by accident.”

OK, I admit I cheered Bates on. But, in real life, it’d be an excellent gift if the good vibes we feel now were to continue well past the holidays.

There is an effort to do just that. Here is one way your acts of kindness can make a difference thru the following link: http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/12/17/15972814-inspired-to-act-26acts-of-kindness-to-honor-those-lost-in-newtown-conn?lite&

Movie clip: “Fried Green Tomatoes”  - Kathy Bates (as Evelyn Couch) is waiting on a parking spot.  

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-14. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Video clip: Andy Williams singing “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”   

Main photo – Christmas – giving – Santa Claus talking with a Native American girl before giving her a Christmas gift at a Toys for Tots giveaway at the Havasupai village on the floor of the Grand Canyon (Dec. 16, 2009). The US Marine Corps reserve squadron, based at Edwards Air Force Base north of Los Angeles, has flown toys to the village’s children for Christmas for the past 14 years. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/f/f0/USMC-091216-M-6497H-004.jpg/632px-USMC-091216-M-6497H-004.jpg

Photo – Christmas – homeless veterans – Boston (Dec. 25, 2010), U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Anthony Savage, executive officer of USS Constitution, serves juice and chats with a veteran at the New England Center for Homeless Veterans during a Christmas dinner visit. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:US_Navy_101225-N-7642M-106_Lt._Cmdr._Anthony_Savage,_executive_officer_of_USS_Constitution,_serves_Juice_and_chats_to_a_veteran_at_the_New_England_.jpg

Listening for Santa’s Sleigh Bells

A child gives Santa a gift during an annual party.

A child gives Santa a gift during an annual party.

By Judy Berman

This time of year, right around Christmas, I step into a time warp to a place back home in Central New York.

It is the first snowfall. Streetlights highlight the stark whiteness. Dave, our girls and I drive around the neighborhood to see how the houses are decked out. One neighbor has a huge snow dragon in his front yard, and part of it is dyed green. Other homes look like the Griswalds’ – a light show consuming every inch of their home.

I love it when the snowflakes are huge, white crystals like the detergent Ivory Snow. Or, when the snow is like butter and just slides off the top of your car with one gentle push.

But, now, at nightfall, the snow is like granular sugar. You can tell it is cold just by how the snow crunches underfoot. Like that scene in the 2004 film, “The Polar Express,” where a young boy is beginning to look for signs to confirm Santa’s presence.

It’s that moment that parents like Shona dread. She suspects her child is beginning to question the existence of that widely talked about, but rarely sighted jolly old elf. In a letter to Santa, her daughter asks how he can deliver so many presents in such a short span.

Shona's daughter writes to Santa

Shona’s daughter writes to Santa

Never mind more probing interrogation such as: How can Santa get into Jimmy’s house when they don’t have a chimney? How does he get up the elevator in the high-rise? How can the sleigh fly if it’s weighted down by so many presents? They’ve heard the naysayers.

Still, like the boy in the story, many don’t want to rush to judgment. They just want reassurances.

“On Christmas Eve, many years ago, I lay quietly on my bed. I did not rustle the sheets. I breathed slowly and silently. I was listening for a sound – a sound a friend told me I’d never hear – the ringing bells of Santa’s sleigh,” wrote author Chris Van Allsburg in “The Polar Express.”

Well, he does hear a sound. But it’s not the gentle ringing of a bell. It’s the “sounds of hissing steam and squeaking metal. I saw a train standing perfectly still in front of my house.”

He ran up to the train. When the conductor said it was the Polar Express, the boy clambered aboard. By the time the boy returns home, any nagging doubts he had have been answered.

I love the scene where the boy realizes he could have any gift in the world. It reminds me when my brother, Hank, was about 3. Hank asked for only three things for Christmas: Golden Books, Chiclets and Sun Maid Raisins. He was delighted to find them under the tree Christmas morning.

The little boy in the book and the movie also was ecstatic to discover he got the gift he thought he lost: a beautiful-sounding silver bell that fell from Santa’s sleigh. It’s a bell that can only be heard by those who truly believe.

We have a copy of that bell. The kid in all of us wants to believe in magical moments and a time of innocence.

I shake the bell, and smile when I hear its melodic ringing.

Santa greets children in Singapore.

When Jolly Old Saint Nick is busy, his helpers step in. Chief Warrant Officer Marc Lefebvre dressed as Santa to greet children in Singapore.

Movie clip: The Polar Express – A boy visits the North Pole as he seeks answers about Santa and the magic of Christmas.   

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-14. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Main Photo – Santa – A child gives Santa a gift during the annual 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit Christmas Party. Taken Dec. 8, 2010 at the Marston Pavilion, Camp Lejeune, N.C. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/b/b4/USMC-101208-M-8527P-045.jpg/640px-USMC-101208-M-8527P-045.jpg

Photo – Santa – letter from Shona’s daughter. Dec. 2012

Photo – Santa greets children – When Jolly Old Saint Nick is busy, his helpers step in. In Singapore, Chief Warrant Officer Marc Lefebvre dressed as Santa and greeted children at Singapore’s Child at Street 11 Care Center. Here, Sailors and Marines from the USS Makin Island (LHD8) give gifts to children as part of a community service project. (Dec. 22, 2011) http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/6/6b/US_Navy_111222-N-DX615-057_Chief_Warrant_Officer_Marc_Lefebvre%2C_dressed_as_Santa_Claus%2C_greets_children_at_Singapore%27s_Child_at_Street_11_care_cent.jpg/640px-US_Navy_111222-N-DX615-057_Chief_Warrant_Officer_Marc_Lefebvre%2C_dressed_as_Santa_Claus%2C_greets_children_at_Singapore%27s_Child_at_Street_11_care_cent.jpg

A “Reel” Christmas and Cherished Moments

by Judy Berman

Are your Christmas memories based on “reel” life or real life?

When I think back — w-a-y back — a golden-brown turkey is roasting in the oven and a freshly baked apple pie cools on the kitchen counter. Their scents waft thru the house down the corridors of my mind. They stir up memories of my Mom fixing our holiday meal.

The plate of cookies and glass of milk I left for Santa are both empty. Only his note to me remains. A treasured memory.

Lately, I’ve begun to question these idealized moments.

This might be the result of one-too-many reruns of the 1983 classic film, “A Christmas Story.”

Parts of this movie, set in the 1940s, bear more than a passing resemblance to some events in my life. One example, take the kid’s tongue stuck on the freezing flagpole. Our youngest daughter, Jenn, did that, and I don’t think even a triple-dog-dare was involved. But there were similar unfortunate results.

In the movie, 9-year-old Ralphie (played by Peter Billingsley) wages a relentless campaign to get “the Holy Grail of Christmas gifts: a genuine Red Ryder 200-shot Carbine Action Air Rifle.”

His Mom shoots that idea down with “the classic mother BB gun block: You’ll shoot your eye out.”

Ralphie, who’d been scheming for weeks to get his “mitts on one of these steel beauties,” is not easily discouraged. He just switches tactics.

Fortunately, I don’t recall our girls bombarding us with pleas for a special toy. I do remember a frustrating 2-year search for Cabbage Patch Kids just before Christmas. Each time, no luck.

Then, after one Christmas, after we’d paid exorbitant prices at a flea market … Then, the dolls are flooding the stores.

Our daughters still have the dolls, and we have another great story to tell.

What I wish is that everyone finds their own special moments linked to this holiday season. Ones that will linger long after the wrapping paper has been ripped from the gifts and trampled underfoot.

May they be quiet, joyous moments that sneak up on you and leave you grinning throughout the year.

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-14. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Photo: family/Nutcracker Suite performance

“Downtown” and December

by Judy Berman  

There’s a jukebox in my head. When a certain tune plays on that virtual soundtrack, it takes me back.

Some songs are like worm-holes. They take you to a time and place you don’t want to return to. I won’t mention them for fear that they will be like an endless tape-loop in your brain. Oh, what the heck. “It’s a Small World After All.” I’ve seen grown-ups run from the room screaming in anguish, knowing that they will be mindlessly humming that tune all day because it’s now imbedded in their head.

Others may stir up memories that deposit you gently in a nostalgic setting and lift you out of a bluesy-funk. For me, December and Petula Clark’s “Downtown” will be forever intertwined. Both link to my first apartment when I moved away from home. The tune was upbeat. It made me feel less lonely and very hopeful about my new digs.

Envision this: I moved from the country into an apartment in Syracuse, N.Y. At night the old, run-down house looked like the one behind the Bates Motel in the movie “Psycho.”  Uninviting, foreboding. I would have to share the bathroom with some stranger – some unknown tenant who would live across the hall from my third-floor, walk-up apartment.

Why was it, again, that I was making this move? That question, among others, raced through my mind that December evening as I trudged up the stairs carrying my belongings.

At a small table, in my sparsely decorated one-room apartment, I watched sadly as my Dad backed up his Volkswagen. Snowflakes fell more furiously as he drove off. It was about two weeks before Christmas, and my parents would be moving to another state in less than two months.

A tiny snow globe on the table was my only holiday decoration.

I was 21 and eager to be on my own. But I was torn between celebrating my newfound independence and leaving the security of my parents’ home. It’s the flight that most of us feel we have to take to really be considered grown up.

The thought of partying the nights away sounded exciting. But I also was savvy enough to know I’d pay for that as I sleep-walked, bleary-eyed around the office the following day.

Yeah, that sure would get old real fast.

As I sat there, considering the abrupt change in my life, a song on the radio intruded into my thoughts.

“Just listen to the music of the traffic in the city, linger on the sidewalk where the neon signs are pretty,” Petula Clark sang.

“Downtown, where all the lights are bright. Downtown, waiting for you tonight. Downtown, you’re gonna be all right now.”

I dismissed the nagging thought that I might be spending Christmas alone and began to sing along. Downtown was less than a mile from my apartment. Time to view the brightly decorated Christmas trees.  I cheered up as I began to weigh the endless possibilities and adventures that lay in wait.

Now, when I hear that tune, a wave of nostalgia floods over me. While it dredges up some sad times, it also reminds me that opportunity beckons. All I need to do is open the door, remember the wonder of discovering something new and embrace the change.

What song sparks a special time of year for you?

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-14. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

(Click the link below to hear Petula Clark’s “Downtown”)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rZSklx9wKdY