By John Gray
Once, when I was a little boy of about 11, I decided to take the $5 I had saved and buy a Christmas gift for my entire family. Since five bucks doesn’t go very far I had an idea—buy a holiday cake all nicely decorated and give it to everyone. I walked to the bakery, put my face to the glass window and my smile melted like an April snowfall. Yes, they had fancy holiday cakes all right, but the cheapest was $10. I went into the bakery anyway and looked around until I found a case filled with plain cakes that were not decorated; no snowmen, turtledoves or elves.
They did have one that was red and green, Christmas colors, for just $5 and while there was nothing special about it something told me to buy it anyway.
As I carried my cake down the sidewalks of Troy toward my home (careful not to step on a crack and break my mother’s back), I noticed something peeking from the ice and snow. What was it? I stopped, gently put the cake down on the ice and brushed away the slush. It was a team of plastic reindeer attached to a sled with Santa sitting up top. A closer inspection told me it was a decoration that someone had dropped.
I scooped up Rudolph and the gang and tucked them in my coat pocket. When I got home I hid the cake on the back porch and snuck into the bathroom to clean my newfound prize. With the help of a little soap and water the decoration looked as good as new. I dried it off, placed it on top of the cake and was amazed. It fit perfect, as if it were made for that cake.
I don’t know if my Mom was really that impressed with my present, but she fussed over that dessert like it was made from gold. Thirty years later I wonder if I was just lucky that day or if maybe Santa himself looked down on a little boy with his face pressed against the bakery window and thought, “I’m going to help this kid out.”
I love the holidays. Everything about them. I love the way families find time to get together if only for one special meal. I love the way the lights look at night as you drive through neighborhoods you’re not familiar with and admire people’s decorations. I especially love the way white lights look in a bush when they are covered with a fluffy new snowfall, glowing like an unopened present.
I love hearing holiday music as you walk the sidewalks of Saratoga or Stuyvesant Plaza window shopping, wishing you had a Visa card with a zero balance. I love the way people are more willing to hold the door for a stranger or wave someone into traffic who is stuck in a parking lot.
I love watching children’s faces as you talk to them about Santa Claus or leaving carrots out for the reindeer who will soon be landing on their rooftops. I love seeing those same children all dressed in their Sunday best holding their parent’s hands as they walk into church on Christmas day. Is there anything cuter than a four-year old boy wearing a suit and tie? Okay, maybe a four-year old girl in a red velvet dress holding a new doll she found under the tree.
I love Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve and the feeling of absolute peace as you walk out of church into the frigid night with “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” echoing from the choir.
I love staying up late with someone I love and wrapping presents on the living room floor in front of a fire with the smell of something delicious drifting in from the kitchen.
I mostly love Christmas the way it used to be when the people who meant the most to me were still here—my Mom and Dad and grandparents. When there weren’t so many divorces in the family and getting the children and grandchildren together didn’t require so much coordination between the “ex’s”. There are a lot of divorced people out there who feel a little like a Rubiks’ cube as they constantly turn the pieces of their lives trying to make it all fit. Moms and Dads trying to jam in some “quality” time before the clock strikes twelve and it’s time to bring the little ones home.
I don’t know what kind of 2006 you had. If it was anything like mine you probably need a tall glass of eggnog with an extra shot of rum. Maybe someone broke your heart. Maybe someone you love is no longer with us. Maybe life just knocked you around the way it sometimes does and you are having trouble paying the phone bill. Maybe you’re just plain tired and there’s very little to be “merry” about this year.
Just know this—there are people who care about you. It could be a co-worker who smiles at you in the hall or the gal who waits on you at the coffee shop every morning or the pastor from the church you haven’t visited in some time. Or even the guy who writes the column on the back page of this fine magazine every month.
I look around at our troubled world and the ignorance, heartache and bloodshed are enough to make you cry. Then you look again and see acts of pure kindness. People delivering meals to the homebound, nurses working double-shifts on the holidays so the children at Albany Med won’t be alone. Volunteers painting rooms at the Ronald McDonald House, organizing a walk for Alzheimer’s, or helping out the athletes at Special Olympics. When I see those selfless acts it makes me believe that no matter how bad today is, tomorrow could be better. Will be better!
This month I want to reach out to those who have a tough time with the holidays. This is my personal invitation for you to contact me. Call me at Fox, send me an email, stop me on the street if you like. This is my home, and if you live here too, you are my neighbor and therefore never alone. You might be surprised how much we have in common.
And if you find yourself feeling low and walking with your head down, keep those eyes open. Take it from an 11-year old kid—you never know when that one thing you need will be right there in front of you buried in the snow. It could be a new friendship or job, maybe a charity that needs your help. Who knows—perhaps you’ll stumble on another lonely heart waiting to be rescued and thawed out by the fire. They say the holidays are a magic time. I think the magic is in you.
John Gray is a Fox23 News anchor and contributing writing at the Troy Record. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org