Back in the day, before computerized order systems and overnight shipping, items ordered by phone needed six to eight weeks to arrive at your doorstep. Normally, this just meant you had a longer waiting time. But in the case of Christmas album compilations, advertising started in September in order to ensure a timely delivery in December.
As kids, we loved hearing strains of Christmas music during commercial time. Sing it, Tony Bennett. But our mother had a different reaction. "I don't want to hear about Christmas yet!" she'd declare. "I'm nowhere near ready for Christmas."
Way to be a fun sucker, Ma.
But time has a way of getting its revenge, and in the last few years I've discovered that Christmas songs evoke a feeling of pure panic, rather than peace and goodwill toward men. The Christmas list that used to include the parents, one stinky brother and two grandmothers has expanded to include a husband, two kids whose home is already crammed with toys and assorted paraphernalia, the brother's wife, his kids (ditto on the home crammed with kids), various in-laws and nieces and nephews and their toy-populated homes, and neighbors who might just drop over with token gifts as they did last year. Christmas shopping used to mean hunting for something your loved one really wanted; today it's all about finding that one thing your loved one doesn't have.
So forgive me for a bit of "bah humbug." I've earned it.
Still, each year Christmas manages to grab me somewhere in the weeks leading up to it. One year, I found Christmas as I listened to my friend's 4-year-old lisp her one line during the Christmas pageant. Another year I found it while watching my sleepy 1-year-old clap her hands in glee over a ball pit. (This year the same child wants a Coach purse and Ugg boots. How quickly things change.) Another year I found it while standing over a church stove, making hot chocolate by the pot to serve visitors to our outdoor Christmas walk to Bethlehem.
This year, I found it early. My family and I spent Thanksgiving in my hometown, and my old church was doing an Advent program. Honestly, Mrs. Bah Humbug was going to win this battle. I really didn't feel like sitting in church, reminding my kids to keep their mouths shut during the important parts. Heck, I wasn't sure I wanted to sit in church at all on a Saturday night.
As usual, I underestimated the impact of the event. Maybe it was the Christmas carols we sang, old favorites that brought back memories of caroling to the elderly neighbors when I was a kid. (I vividly remember visiting a nursing home, where one resident with short-term memory problems asked us to sing "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" three times. We did.) Maybe it was the folks who played a parental role in my childhood and welcomed me home this weekend with, literally, open arms. Maybe it was the church sanctuary, which brought back memories of Christmas Eves past, when my brother and I would fidget in the pew, fantasizing about what was going to be under the tree the next morning and wondering how to make the next 12 hours go by quickly.
Whatever it was, it brought back that feeling of exciting anticipation, that air of giddiness that we're all going to be celebrating in a few weeks. Once again, the spirit of Christmas managed to push its way past the endless lists of chores and trips to the mall, reminding me to hang onto the magic that only happens once a year.
Once again, I found my Christmas.