The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Archive for the ‘Holidays’ Category

THOUGHTS ON DECEMBER 26TH

Call it what you will.  The day after Christmas; the day you rush to the stores which open before the crack of dawn so that frenetic shoppers can pick over the already picked over leftovers remaining on retailers’ shelves; the day you rush into the stores to return that horrible sweater that Aunt Martha gave you and exchange it for one of the already picked over leftovers remaining on retailers’ shelves; the day those in the UK call Boxing Day; or call it St. Stephen’s Day.   December 26th has many names as the second of twelve days of the Christmas season which concludes with the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6th.

I am sure that none of us in America needs an introduction to shopping – one of our official national pass times.  But you may not be as conversant in your knowledge of St. Stephen.

Stephen (from the Greek “stephanos” meaning crown) was one of seven chosen by the disciples as a deacon.  In his case he was given the assignment to minister to those who were widows.  He is also recognized in the church calendar as Protomartyr – the first to die for his faith.  Perhaps you remember him from the first line of that old Christmas Carol:

“Good King Wenceslas looked out,
On the Feast of Stephen.”

Stephen was reputed to be an excellent preacher and logician.  He got in trouble with the local religious authorities, one of his chief antagonists being Saul of Tarsus who later converted and is better known to us now as St. Paul.

He was accused of blasphemy and was tried in the religious court, the Sanhedrin.  Convicted falsely that he had desecrated the names of the sacred prophets, he was condemned to death.  His execution was carried out in the usual manner as prescribed – which is to say that he was stoned to death.

Does any of this sound familiar even in our moment in time two thousand years later?

My Polish friends remember St. Stephen by tossing a handful of walnuts, symbolic of the rocks that were used in his execution, at the outer doors of their friends’ homes to waken them on this day.

In my opening paragraph I omitted one other title we might use for December 26th.  That is the day before Congress gets back in session and two days before the President will be back involved in the process of governing.  And I guess I should add that it is six days before we jump off the “fiscal cliff”.

Some traditions are nice, like tossing a handful of walnuts.  Others, such as those we might expect out of the parties in Washington, like casting aspersions – well, not so much.

As filled as I am with the Christmas spirit, I take heart in one thought.  Santa must have left a lot of coal in the stockings of those who are running this country.  (That is if he could slip that gift past the EPA).

AN UNLIT CHRISTMAS

When I spent my first Christmas in my new home I thought to myself, “My goodness.  These people really rush to get those Christmas lights up and try to outdo one another with their display.”

This all started on the evening of Thanksgiving and by that following Sunday, I think that perhaps ninety percent of the houses were decorated.  It was as though there was an imperative written into the HOA document that required a homeowner to decorate with displays of Christmas lights.

Obviously, I needed to get with the program.  And since I had lived in an apartment all my life, I had none of the necessary equipment to comply.  But I found that there was an ample supply of material in the stores to allow me to fulfill my obligation as a new homeowner.

Some of the displays were extremely beautiful and tasteful.  Others struck me as being a bit garish.  I enjoyed the lights – but would not have chosen to fill my lawn with air inflated snow globes.  And the one house with the fornicating elephants was just a bit over the top for me.  (Or perhaps they were a part of a chorus line that was performing the Can Can).

You couldn’t help but notice the lights as the gate opened and you drove down the entrance to this little community.  The lights on the houses provided far more illumination than the street lamps.  White and colored lights lining the eaves and the bushes and wrapped around the palm trees.  But that was then.

It was 2001.  We had just a few months earlier suffered as a nation through the worst disaster in recent American history.  Yet despite the fact that we were all still numb at the fall of the Twin Towers and were listening to the threat level under which the nation existed, we had the spirit and the optimism to put up our Christmas lights.

We still had a symbol of the season on the White House lawn that was called a Christmas tree.  It would take a few more elections for us to put an ideologue in that residence and allow his ethnic cleansing to convert this into a mere “Holiday tree.”

But we did it.  And, as bleak as life was, we managed to do it again.

The comparison of Christmas 2001 and the one this year is so clear that I wonder if this little community of homeowners is an isolated example of the nadir to which our spirits have fallen or is merely a microcosm of the entire nation.  As I drove home from church early this morning, I was struck by the absence of lights.  Perhaps only twenty percent of the homeowners had bothered putting them up at all.

The street which allows entrance to this little community was so devoid of light that the few houses where homes were decorated, seemed more to emphasize the darkness than they did to provide illumination.  I was particularly struck by this as I had just returned from a celebration of the joyous Midnight Liturgy of Christmas.

Faith has been called, “The outward and visible sign of an inward invisible grace.”  If that statement is reflected in our Christmas lights, then surely our faith has been eroded.  And by that, I refer not only to our faith in God but our faith in ourselves as individuals and in our nation.  And could it be otherwise?

We have been brain washed into thinking that government has all the answers.  Yet if we look at the facts, those who are discerning will realize that government has created many if not most of the problems.  Like a parent in denial about the bad behavior of his child who refuses to admit that his offspring is behaving in a way that is societally unacceptable, he continues to reinforce that behavior by doing the exact same things which have caused his child’s condition in the first place.

That we have incidents like Newtown, CT is not an accident.  It is merely the manifestation of a society that has abandoned principle and decency and compassion, while cloaking itself under the self-styled mantle of a new and better principle and decency and compassion.

Newtown and the other incidents like it come about because we have become a society that passes laws which are unread by those we empower to craft those laws on our behalf and who specifically exempt themselves from following them.

What care do they have that a national grocery store chain has just informed their staff that beginning January 1st, all cashiers will have their hours cut to twenty per week, to avoid the implications brought about by an act of Congress and signed into law by the President?  That doesn’t affect them.  Nor will similar announcements that are undoubtedly forthcoming from other companies.

I cannot help but see the parallel between the decline of the Roman Republic into the centralized authority of the Roman Caesar – all with the willing participation of the Roman people who accepted the modest sops and benefits they were given as sufficient payment for their votes and allegiance.

And then one day, so enervated from their abandonment of the principles that had made them a great nation, they were too weak to resist the barbarians who arrived at their gates and slaughtered them.  Like the Christmas lights in my neighborhood, theirs too had been snuffed out.

But if there is one thing that Christmas means to me it is that there is hope – that evanescent precious treasure to which too few of us today cling.  We are taught both by Dante and government that we should, “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.”

And while the lights are now few and dim, I cling to the hope that next year, perhaps there will be one or two more houses that are lit during the Christmas season and that a few more people will remember the old values of real principle and decency and compassion.  Because that is the true message of Christmas.

THE VANILLA CHRISTMAS TURKEY

This is a re-blog of a post I put up soon after I started my blogging “career”.  Because I was new at this whole thing, there weren’t many people who saw this post  But those few who did seemed to find it enjoyable.

Now that I have a larger audience, I thought I would share it with you since we all need a little good cheer and a hearty laugh at this time of year.

I had known Amos for many years. He looked and sounded as if he could be James Earl Jones’ twin. We first met when I had directed him in a community theatre production of the Cole Porter show, “Anything Goes.”

Amos and I were different in almost every way and disagreed on almost everything. Possibly for those reasons we became the very best of friends.

I was a good cook. Amos had difficulty heating a can of soup. Amos thought that William Faulkner was the greatest author and genius the world had ever brought forth. I made six attempts at reading, “As I Lay Dying” – and never made it past page nine before I fell sleeping. I couldn’t wait for opera season to begin. Amos couldn’t understand how anyone would choose to attend the opera unless a gun were held to his head.

One year, about a week before Christmas, I ran into him on the street as I was walking Tristan my Irish Setter. Tristan did what he did best, jumped up on Amos and started licking his face. Tristan was well-trained.

Amos asked, “So what are you doing for Christmas?”

I replied that I would probably make a small roast of some kind for Tristan and me.

“Well, I was going to call you but I’m glad we met. I would like you to join mother and my sister and me for Christmas dinner.”

I readily accepted the invitation – expecting that we would be going to Amos’ mom’s house for dinner. He had told me on any number of occasions that his mother was an outstanding cook.

Then came the bombshell.

Amos said, “I’m cooking. Dinner will be at three o’clock.”

I politely inquired, “Could I help you – or is there something that I might bring to add to this festive meal?”

“Not at all. I have everything under control.”

So I went my way, wondering what was in store for Christmas dinner.

On Christmas day I called Amos about nine – just to see if he might have changed his mind and could use some assistance. He assured me that everything was under control – but said that if I wanted to come by at about one we could have a few glasses of wine together before his mother and sister arrived.

When I got off the elevator of his apartment building, I was struck with the aroma of vanilla which filled the rather large hallway. I went to Amos’ apartment and found that he was the source of this.

He greeted me at the door – and the vanilla aroma in the hallway had graduated to an overpowering smell. I asked, “What are you making for dessert?”

Amos said, “Oh, I bought a cherry pie at the store and got some Redi-Whip to top it off.” He pointed to the can of Redi-Whip sitting on the counter next to the stove. I suggested that he might want to refrigerate it.

“So what is the source of this wonderful vanilla smell?”

Amos said, “Well, I knew that you were supposed to rub the turkey with some sort of herbs and such but when I went to my cupboard the only thing I had was vanilla – so I used that.”

“I’ll take that glass of wine now, if you don’t mind,” I said. And he poured one for both of us.

The wine helped – a little.

“May I ask what else you’re making?”

“Well, I made rice stuffing to go with the turkey.”

“Oh, that sounds good.” I couldn’t help but ask how he had prepared this.

“The recipe said to cook the rice and add all the other ingredients – some chopped celery, a little onion, some mushrooms. But I figured since it was going to be sitting inside the bird for six hours (it was a 14 pound turkey), why bother with the cooking part. It would be nicely done if I just put the raw rice in with the rest of the ingredients.”

I asked for a second glass of wine – which helped a little bit more.

Thankfully, at that point the downstairs buzzer rang. Mom and sis had arrived.

Amos’ mom and I immediately bonded and the two of us agreed that since KFC was open, I would go and purchase a 16 piece bucket of chicken and a sufficient quantity of mashed potatoes and other side dishes to feed the four of us.

We all enjoyed the store-bought cherry pie (replete with Redi-Whip) for dessert.

That was the most interesting Christmas dinner I ever experienced – and the only time I almost got to eat a vanilla turkey.

Merry Christmas to my dear friend Amos and to all of you.

IS XMAS HERE TO STAY?

As tomorrow is the beginning of Advent which commences on that Sunday the closest to the Feast of St. Andrew (November 30th), I thought it would be appropriate to put up a post on a religious theme.  Well, mostly a religious theme depending on whether or not you consider Xmas to be a religious event.

I remember as a child that during the summer the vestments worn in church by the clergy were green.  A never ending sea of green, week after week and month after month.  And then suddenly they took on the color purple as Advent began.  (This was a clue to the faithful that something was up – and what was up was that we were awaiting the arrival of Christmas – and, no that is not a misspelling of Xmas).

If I had somehow missed the hint dropped at church I received a reminder when I went to school as casting for the Christmas play had begun and I truly hoped that I wasn’t going to be the ox as had happened the previous year.  As is appropriate to the season, my wish came true.  I got to be the ass that year.

Now my school was way ahead of its time.  It was a private but non-religious place of learning.  It was a very ecumenical place.  We students, as nearly as I could figure out were either Christian (in various forms), Jewish (in various forms) – well it was in New York City – unidentified, or unconcerned about the whole religious experience.  Amazingly, we all got along quite well.

I always thought that it must have been hard for the Jewish kids to get into the spirit of a Christmas play – but they were all good sports about it.  I give credit to the school staff for that.  As we all know, Jesus was a WASP, but in our play they had dabbled in revisionist history and turned him, his father and mother into Semites.

This, of course, opened up a number of roles for the Jewish kids in class to play.  If they didn’t get cast as Mary or Joseph – there was still plenty of room for them as one of the shepherds stage right.  We didn’t have to worry about accommodating the Muslim kids as we didn’t have any in my class and the one child who was Buddhist just sort of transcended the whole thing.

Well it went on that way for years.  We would send people Christmas cards to which we had affixed Christmas stamps.  We would wrap Christmas presents and say to those we passed on the street, “Merry Christmas.”  I remember saying that to Mrs. Rappaport who always wore her Star of David and lived in our building and she just smiled broadly at me and said, “Well, Merry Christmas to you too, sweetheart.”  Then she bent down and kissed me on the cheek.

I’m not sure what Madalyn Murray O’Hair would have thought about my exchange with Mrs. Rappaport but it’s safe to say that she probably wouldn’t have been amused.  But as I was in a private school and this was before the Supreme Court decided that prayer and Bible reading was a no-no, I suspect we really didn’t need to hear from her on the subject.

Well we meandered through the four weeks or so from the start of Advent until the big day finally arrived – or more correctly the big night – Christmas Eve.  We would all trundle off to church for the Midnight liturgy filled with the old war horse hymns that we loved and which I still love.  You probably know some of them, “O, Come All Ye Faithful,” “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” and the excellent choir would always sing “Silent Night” a cappella in the church which was illuminated only by the flickering of a sea of candles.

That service was always my favorite of the year.  You see, for just a few weeks, suddenly we all seemed to be just a little nicer as people.  A little kinder.  A little gentler.  In some ways it was with melancholy that I walked home with my parents and grandmother.  I knew that seven days hence we would start a new year.  And with that new year, most of us would return to our old ways.  It would be eleven long months until the spirit of compassion would once again reach out to us.

I’m not quite sure when Christmas evolved or devolved into Xmas.  As I understand from a friend who’s spouse works at a division of Kroger Foods, the staff have been informed that the proper greeting for their patrons is, “Happy Holidays.”  That is the only reference to the season which is permitted and should someone violate that they are subject to termination.  Talk about a way to infuse a little holiday spirit in your employees and make their season bright.

I would be remiss if I didn’t introduce a little history here.  You remember St. Andrew whose feast day is used to determine the start of Advent?  Well he was crucified on a cross that was in the form of an “X”.  So that might be the origin for our referring to the upcoming holiday as Xmas.  I don’t think with our current need to sanitize, whitewash and PCify everything that Xmas is in any danger of extinction.  I’m pretty sure it’s here to stay.

I admit to being old-fashioned in some ways and am going to keep a few traditions as I learned them in childhood.  I am looking forward to the thought of a service starting at midnight, a choir singing a cappella and a church in total darkness other than the light cast by a sea of flickering candles.

I am going to hold on to Christmas and not be ashamed to call it that.   I will try to be a little nicer, a little kinder, a little gentler to others and spread good cheer and warm wishes to those I meet.  And I’m going to hope, as I do each year at this time, that the idea catches on.

I’ve been hoping that for a long time.

THE SIMPLE JOY OF LOVING

Let’s begin at the beginning which we know is a very good place to start.  My love affair with dogs started very shortly after I made my way into the world – kicking and screaming and annoyed at the bright lights in the delivery room which had disturbed the comfortable warm, dark and secure accommodations I had previously enjoyed.

A short while later I went to a new place that I would call home until the time that I went off to college.  It was a small apartment filled with an amazingly loving and wonderful buff colored Cocker Spaniel named Taffy who would act as a surrogate guardian for my parents and grandmother.

Mom and this guy called Dad had disappeared for about a week on something that was called a honeymoon.  They had been married on Flag Day and ten days and a year later I popped into the world.  This was back in the days when the sequence of events was getting married and then having children.  Even then, (although we had not yet invented the word), there were people who were dyslexic and got these instructions backwards – but they were relatively few in number and polite people didn’t talk about them.

Now Mom had gotten Taffy as a puppy – but by the time of her marriage he was twelve years old and very devoted to her.  She was concerned that he might be jealous of this new addition to the family.  As it turned out, she had nothing to fear.  Taffy considered it his duty to take care of this baby, sleeping by the side of my crib, ever vigilant should anything or anyone disturb me.

Perhaps he saw in me a kindred spirit.  Maybe it was the fact that I pooped and piddled with abandon in those old fashioned cloth diapers which Mom and Grandma had to wash out and launder and then reuse.  Perhaps those smells reminded him of the others of his kind whom he knew only by the aroma that they left on the fire hydrant down the street.  In any event, Taffy assumed the role of my protector and guarded me with all his might.

After awhile my parents decided to introduce me to the wonders of Central Park.  I had a big English stroller carriage and Taffy and I would ride in it together.  I would gum his ears with my mouth and do the same to his nose.  He reciprocated these affronts to his dignity by showering my hands and face with licks and then would resume his rest at the foot of the carriage, always attentive if a stranger came too close to his baby.

Taffy lived to be nearly seventeen.  I was in the apartment but sleeping when he passed away near my little bed.  My parents removed his body before I awakened and had it cremated.  When I got up that morning I remember looking for him.  That was when I first became aware of the principle that where there is life there is also death.  I remember crying inconsolably at the loss of my very devoted friend.

A week later my folks came home with Taffy’s ashes – and a new addition to our little family.  This was a pure black Cocker Spaniel puppy whom they named Ace.  And after Ace there was Andy and a succession of wonderful companion dogs with whom I have been privileged to share my home and my heart with the sole exception of the four years I lived in college dorms.

One of those dogs was a gift, some were rescues, all have been wonderful friends.  Whether it was the two goofy Irish Setters, Finney and Tristan, the wonderful Newfoundland/Belgian Shepherd mix, Josh, the German Shepherd mix, Dusty, the Golden Retrievers, Dickens and Spenser and now, my Lane Bryant girl the Irish Wolfhound look alike, Gracie.  They have all been the most constant and devoted companions.  And, of course, now there are the three Golden Retrievers for whom Gracie and I have been surrogate parents for much of this past year, Bubba, Bébé and Kali.

I had expected their owner to ask us to care for them over Thanksgiving as he was hoping to visit relatives out of town.  As it turned out that trip did not occur and so Gracie and I celebrated the holiday together.  But on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, I received a call from him to let me know that he wasn’t feeling well and thought that, if I could, it would be better for them to stay a few days with me rather than with his girlfriend and her three dogs.  So I arranged to meet her at the dog park to pick up the kids.  Gracie and I hadn’t seen them for just over two weeks.

When we got to the park, I could see Kali was the closest of the three.  Her parents were at the far end and were facing away from Gracie and me.  She suddenly spotted the two of us and took off in our direction, running and barking in her very treble voice.  This caused mom and dad to turn around and they too began running toward us at full kilter.

I would have to say that this reunion lasted for at least five minutes, all three of them showering their affection on both Gracie and me and raising such a ruckus that four people who were passing by the outer fence of the park stopped to watch the whole thing.  One of the men in the park came over and said I must be the “Dog Whisperer” of Las Vegas.

I don’t know why dogs seem to have an affinity for me or I for them.  Perhaps it is because we are cast from the same mold of simplicity.  They ask for so little.  A home, some food and water and a little bit of love.  Yet they return so much loyalty and affection for what we bestow on them.  And as for me, the gratitude I see in their face after they have enjoyed a meal, followed by one of them curling up in my lap is the greatest gift I could imagine receiving.

If all our world leaders had a companion dog as a guide to teach them their ways this might be a more harmonious planet.  For in the end, we make the choice if we should follow a path of anger and hatred and war – or whether we should walk down the road letting the simple joy of loving be our guide.

THOUGHTS ON THIS AND THAT

As this is a long Holiday weekend in the United States it was kind of the rest of the world to stop doing business so that we could enjoy ourselves without having to be distracted by their affairs.

I would especially like to thank Hamas for stopping their rocket attacks on Israel.  We were getting bored listening to all the reports that those evil Israelis were killing the civilians you purposely place near your assault weapon facilities in Gaza so that you could claim the evil Zionist Jews were murdering them.  Our collective head wear is off to you.

So on to some random thoughts … on this and that.

BLACK FRIDAY

If you have been out of the loop for about twenty years you might think that this is a Holiday named in honor of Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks or the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  You might even include Barack Hussein Obama in that list.  (No, on second thought – if you’d been out of the loop for that long you’d have no idea who that was).

Of course, Black Friday has a lot to do with “equal rights” which is something that the first three people I named worked so hard to achieve through their words and their lives.  But in this case, it is not the right to be treated as an equal without regard to skin color.  It is the right to spend frivolously and freely and with abandon at your friendly retail store – because in the end, all money is equal.  It’s green.

Black Friday is also the most dangerous day to be a civilized driver who wants to continue an unblemished record of avoiding accidents.  Mall parking lots which are, in my opinion, the most dangerous place to operate a moving vehicle at any time, become even more so on this particular day.

You see, many drivers have a problem understanding the difference between “Limit” and “Minimum” when they interpret those little signs which are supposed to regulate the rate at which we operate our vehicles.  This deficiency on their part naturally carries with them into the parking lots of our malls which may or may not even bother to post a speed limit.

Many malls, realizing the futility of trying to regulate the speed at which their patrons drive, simply have removed them – perhaps with a view to getting the survivors into the doors faster to purchase their goods quicker.  Once the purchase has been made and the consumer is stacked up with goodies that extend far above her head, if she’s run down by a speeding Hummer – well, too bad.  (“There will be no exchanges made without a receipt” – and if you’re run down by a speeding Hummer it’s hard to separate the receipt from the hemoglobin).

I’m keeping a safe distance from malls today but I wish all of you daring souls who want to give it a try the very best of good luck.

RESIGNATION

During the last several months I’ve put up two posts urging my former Congressman, Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. (2nd IL – D) to do the right and honorable thing by his constituents and resign.  He finally did.  Sadly, this came two weeks after he was re-elected, so vacating the seat at this time will require the people of Chicago to pay the additional cost of holding a special election to fill his post.

In no way will this newly elected representative change the composition of the House as the district is predominantly black and overwhelmingly Democrat.  So we should expect that the result of that special election will be that a person, male or female, will bear both those characteristics.

Former Congressman Jackson has been suffering from “Bipolar Disorder” and has been undergoing on again off again treatment at the Mayo Clinic.  This condition, once called “manic depression” may be due, at least in part, to the ethics charges which were being considered against him by the House – and now the FBI.

The investigation centers around two aspects of the former Congressman’s activities.  One is the possible misuse of campaign funds which may have been diverted for his personal benefit.  The second concerns his possible involvement in former Governor Rod Blagojevich’s (now incarcerated on corruption charges) efforts to “sell” the Senate seat that Barack Obama vacated.

With the weight of his public responsibilities now lifted from his shoulders, the former Congressman may devote his efforts more fully to his attempts at recovery.   Fortunately, under the very generous benefits that the members of Congress have voted themselves, he will enjoy a lifetime of the best of care, should his condition warrant that, all of it funded by the taxpayers of the United States.

It remains to be seen whether that treatment will occur in a medical or a correctional facility.

ESTADOS UNIDOS MEXICANOS

President Felipe Calderon has proposed, as a final gesture before he leaves office on December 1st, changing the name of his country to just plain old Mexico.  Now the astute reader will say, “Wait a minute, juwannadoright – I thought this post was all about U. S. stuff and none of that world gobbledygook.”  And you would be correct.  You see with our transparent borders and all, it’s hard to tell where one country ends and the other one begins.

One of the major questions facing us is the issue of illegal immigration – the bulk of which is due to our neighbor on the south.  So if we simply bought Mexico, we could quickly resolve this problem without having to look like racist bigots.  This should appeal to the Administration since Hispanic voters seem to like the President quite a lot.  And who knows, we might even repeal Amendment XXII to the Constitution.  That’s the one that limits the President to two terms in office.

I do realize that we are a little strapped for cash right now so the alternative might be for the Mexican drug cartels to buy us.  I hear they’re doing very well.  And this would provide those who recently voted to legalize marijuana in their states with a virtually unlimited supply of their favorite recreational product.  Perhaps weed will be the new growth industry of the 2010’s and the way to bail ourselves out of our financial mess.

Just think how much simpler life would be if most of us were high all the time.  Consider how much easier it would be for labor and management to negotiate new contracts.

“So, like man – you want us to take a twenty percent pay cut and pay for our own health insurance?  Yeah, baby – that’s cool – I can sell that to the slobs down on the production lines.  As long as we get all the reefer we can smoke.”

Of course, the question of immigration is one with which we’ve been struggling for a long time.  Fifty-five years ago, West Side Story came alive on Broadway.  With music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, the show ran to sell out crowds before going on tour and inspiring a movie of the same name.

While the Hispanics in the play were Puerto Ricans, for most Anglo-Americans one Latino is pretty much like all the rest of them.  (Although I’m pretty sure that we do own Puerto Rico.  Didn’t we steal it fair and square from the Spanish?)  With that said, I present for your listening enjoyment, one of the many delightful songs from that show.

And remember – if you’ve got shopping on your to-do list today be careful.  It’s a jungle out there.

ABUNDANCE

For most Americans, our national day of Thanksgiving is wrapped up in family, over-eating, football and a general euphoric sense of joy.  The same may not be said for the turkeys involved in this whole thing – although I consulted with the yams and cranberries and they seem to be okay with it all.

Oh, and let me not forget.  This begins the kickoff to that most important part of the Holidays – shopping.

Our insatiable lust for more “things” has compelled our retailers to begin pulling back the onslaught of prospective buyers from the Friday after Thanksgiving to the night of the holiday itself.  Perhaps they have conducted studies that prove that a person who has consumed vast quantities of l-tryptophan is more likely to part with his money if he can only stay awake long enough to get in the store’s welcoming doors.   Inside can be found the keys to happiness wrapped up neatly in packages made in China.

There is no recession here – unless it is one of the spirit and of values.

It was a bitterly cold day in Chicago that December 23rd.  I had nearly finished checking every one off my Christmas list – but there were still two holdouts.

I remember that even under the multiple layers of clothing my body was telling me to go someplace warm.  My fingers were numb even through my faux fur-lined gloves.  I would have put my hands in my coat pocket but I was carrying two bags of gifts which I needed to go home and wrap.

Home.  That sounded cozy and welcoming and I wanted to be there.  But first I had to find those two last presents.

I remember walking into a little store in the neighborhood which had merchandise that was made in Scandinavia.  All sorts of little pieces of glass, blown into the most wonderful and imaginative forms.  Frankly, I didn’t think these were things that my last two giftees would care about – but that didn’t matter to me.  The store was warm and I was beginning to return to room temperature.  That was my greatest reason for deciding to linger, taking my time in deciding which present each of them would receive – whether they wanted it or not.

I would probably have stayed longer as the blood in my feet was only just beginning to re-circulate but one of the sales people explained that they were getting ready to close.  So I made my decision, paid for my two purchases and added them to the others in my shopping bags. With some discomfort at the thought of what lay ahead in the mile walk home, I bundled up and opened the door to be greeted by a blast of wind that was so shrill and so sharp it made my eyes tear.

When I got home, I set down my parcels, took off my gloves and immediately went into the kitchen to start the kettle so I could make myself a cup of Russian Caravan tea.  I remember turning on the warm water in the sink and running my hands under it to speed up the process of getting the blood flowing through them.

And as I sat at my little kitchen table waiting for the water to come to a boil, I began thinking about my day and about all this shopping.  And I began pondering how I had, like so many of us, bought into this “bill of goods” that our sense of self-worth could be measured by the amount of money that we spent on presents.

That was the last Holiday season that I went out buying people gifts.  I turned my focus in later years to doing things that were more meaningful to me and, I hope to them.  I made things and those were my presents to my friends.

One year I taught myself to crochet and my friends all got scarves.  Another year I ventured into the world of yeast and people got  a variety of breads.  And then I taught myself to make jams and jellies and preserves and helped boost the sales of the Mason Jar Company.

I hope that those who got these gifts enjoyed receiving them as much as I did in creating them.  I know they are simple things, probably not as exciting as the latest electronic gadget.  But they were made and given with love right here in America – a land of abundance.

And that we are fortunate to live in such a place, we should all be grateful this Thanksgiving.

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