Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve homily

Christmastime down here in Hockey Bay is a whole different bird than, say, Up North. For one, it doesn't snow. Correspondingly, Jack Frost seldom nips at your nose. And only the most brittle of souls, I strongly believe, gets dressed up like Eskimos.

Beyond the basic meteorological differences, however, are more subtle observations.

Folks in Florida unabashedly decorate their homes long before Thanksgiving. It's hard to drive down a street here in St. Pete and not see at least two or three inflatables in half a dozen yards. Heck, even one particular inflatable has Santa, decked out in shorts and tropical shirt, resting in a hammock strung between two leaning palms.

Want a visual? Think Christmas in Margaritaville. Wild parrots included.

Now, let's step back about 35-40 years. Growing up in Western New York, Christmastime most always meant snow, snow and more snow. Noses, most certainly, got cold. Only fools, I was told, didn't prepare for the cold. But, you know something? That's what Christmastime meant.

We built snowman and made snow angels. We plunked each other with snowballs, even if Santa was watching. I believe, too, we invented snowboarding -- standing as we rode our red plastic sleds down pretty steep hills out around my hometown of Machias.

Now, despite these differences, in both memories and miles, there's one thing that remains the same: Christmastime was spent with family.

Though I'm an only child, I come from a pretty big family, with three generations of cousins now who are like sisters, nephews and nieces. It's not unheard of for family gatherings, moreso in the past five years or so, to draw 35 to 50 family members. Once everyone's friends arrive for after-hours festivities, triple-digits aren't out of the question.

For the past few years, though, it's been different. Like most every other family, we've felt the pinch of the economic downturn. My wife and I work in industries (tourism and newspapers) amid transformations. And this little "hobby" of mine, though highly enjoyable, ain't exactly cheap. As a result, we don't travel that much or that far. Besides, we live in where others come for vacation.

Still, I'm not complaining.

Thankfully, and only by the grace of my work schedule, I'm able to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day at home with my wife and son this year. Next year, we'll have Christmas Eve and Christmas morning. Working for newspapers, I'm afraid, means deadlines 365 days a year. Getting the week off isn't easy, either.

That's why I'm looking forward to the next few hours. I'll grill a few steak burgers and some of the plumpest hot dogs I've ever seen. Once finished, we'll take a ride around town to check out holiday light displays. Maybe we'll even dip a toe in the Gulf of Mexico.

My favorite part, though, comes when we get back home. We'll watch The Polar Express. We'll set out Santa's milk and cookies. We'll spread reindeer food on the front lawn. Colin gets to open the First Present of Christmas. And, if we're lucky, we'll get more than six hours of sleep.

Bottom line, it doesn't matter where you're at. As long as you're with family, it's a great Christmas.

May yours be as merry.

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