They paused, upstairs, watching the clock: 5:54 ... 5:58 ... 6:00! And down they came, to a room with a brightly lit tree under which colorful packages with their names on little tags awaited them. Then the tearing and the squealing and the laughter began.
This, of course, is the Norman Rockwell Christmas, the one of which all children dream and which Mr. Rockwell himself portrayed on canvas, as he did so many idyllic American scenes.
And so we join in the hope that your Christmas could be a suitable subject for the great illustrator.
Christmas is that most religious of days for Christians, who commemorate the birthday of their Savior, of the one who preached peace on Earth and good will and tolerance and forgiveness and all those values we try to hold, even though we all often fall short of them.
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No matter one’s faith, this is a day of good feeling and renewal and hope, even in the most humble of homes, even for those in circumstances about which Rockwell never took from real to ideal.
It is as well a day when phone towers will be jammed with calls and attempted calls between loved ones and friends.
Amid the happiness of those most blessed, there should as well be moments dedicated to selflessness, to paying a thought in prayer or remembrance for all those in our personal lives or those with whom we are acquainted only by indirect connections or even just headlines who may find this day a struggle.
And that is why we should pause, once the presents are opened and the breakfast consumed and the menu for this afternoon’s feast is set. Yes, pause to think.
To think about those who have left us in the year past. We owe them that.
To think about those in military service far from home and the families from whom they are separated this day.
To think about those confined to a hospital bed, though they hoped they’d be home by now.
To think about those among the little ones who will not have grand gifts or unbridled joy this day, and their parents, who ache with the disappointment of not being able to provide as they would wish.
To think about those who have lost their jobs, for whom this is a fretful day despite all their efforts to turn worry away.
To think about those we don’t know, in countries where terrorists rule and bullets fly and little children the same as our own will spend the day huddled in the dark, hiding from danger.
This is not to say we should surrender our own happiness or cover ourselves in guilt or allot a measure of this day to self-inflicted gloom. No, but in thinking of others less fortunate, we can realize how blessed so many of us are and give thanks for and appreciate those blessings.
Most of those blessings have nothing to do with what lies under the tree. They are counted in good health and serenity and the warmth of a home large or small and the health of sweet children who love us and the memories of those, our parents and grandparents, who did for us what we try to do for our own.
Yes, this most indulgent of holidays really is about the kind of fortune that has nothing whatever to do with our material possessions at all, if we give ourselves a chance to think. It is, and has always been, about spirit, about memory of the year past and hope for the year ahead.
Those children coming down the stairs this morning don’t understand that yet. But they will in time, just as all those who have experienced the joys and knocks in life do.
For now, though, they’re entitled to some unbridled happiness. For now, for this day, so are we all.