Rudolph, Frosty, Charlie Brown. As old as I get, and as smart as I think I’ve become when it comes to the true meaning of the holidays, the lessons I learned from those three characters still hold much truth.
This is our December issue of CRL, and much as I would like to regale you with tales of Christmas past that would make you laugh so hard eggnog would shoot out of your nose, I’d rather take you back to your childhood and reminisce about three TV friends who came to visitand teach each holiday season.
The first record I ever owned was a 45 of Gene Autry’s “Rudolph The Red-NosedReindeer”. Anyone born after 1980 probably has no idea what a “45” is and that’s a shame because there was something magical about watching a record drop, the needle swing into place and hearing those pops and crackles that enveloped the music. I’d listen to that little black disc time and time again, waiting for the best part of the story where Santa asks Rudolph to save the day.
That cartoon, like so many others from our youth, became appointment TV back in the 1960s and 70s. There were no VCRs or Tivo, so you had just one chance to see it each year and you can bet your red nose that you and your siblings were in your pajamas and on the couch with a big bowl of popcorn (which you cooked on the stove by dumping kernels into hot grease) at 8 o’clock sharp when it came on the tube.
As adults today, we click through the TV stations at warp speed and if we do happen upon Rudolph,we smile for a moment and then continue on, not giving that reindeer a second thought. But some tremendous life lessons are right there.
Think aboutthe story of Rudolph: someone is born different and the others make fun of him. When he attempts to stand up for himself, they are afraid of him and cast him out. He ends up on the “Island of Misfit Toys” where he finds many strange people who have trouble fitting in. In Albany we call that the Governor’s office. Okay, cheap joke, forgive me. It’s only after the roof caves in and they need Rudolph that they reluctantly accept him. It’s Santa Claus himself who is ashamed of how poorly he treated this misunderstood creature.
You can call it a silly cartoon, but how many Rudolphs walk among us today? Minorities, Jews, gays, anyone of Middle Eastern decent; how many of them find themselves feared, resented, misunderstood? It took a snowstorm for the people to come around on Rudolph’s behalf. Makes you wonder what would work for the rest of us. Perhaps if that person stopped in a storm to help us change a flat tire on 787 we would take a second look at their face anda hard look at our own heart. Just a thought.
When it comes to making snowmen, here is what I remember from my youth: snow that sits in the sun for a while is much easier to pack into balls, sticks make great arms, carrots a nose and two pieces of charcoal are the perfect eyes. Also don’t take your father’s favorite church hat without his expressed permission.
The rest I learned from Frosty. I know, I know. Some of you are already waving me off as a silly man for giving credence to a pile of slush who spouts, “Happy Birthday” every time he comes to life, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the magic of childhood and taking you back to a time in your life when you truly believed anything was possible if you wished it.
Do you remember what it was like to believe in happy endings? To put a tooth under the pillow and believe in your heart of hearts that a magical fairy swooped down from the heavens just to see you? To hug your favorite dog or cat and never have a thought or fear that they would ever go away? To sit as quiet as a mouse in the early morning light and watch your mom or dad sip coffee and read the newspaper in the other room and not realize that this moment, right here, is the “good stuff we spend a lifetime looking for? Moments you’d trade all the fairy dust in the world to have back. That, to me, is Frosty. When he melts, your six-year-old heart is reduced to a puddle right alongside him. And when Santa showsKarenthat Frosty never really goes away, that he represents love and all that is good about Christmas, that, to me, is much more than a half-hour cartoon.
It’s a message that carries over to our real lives. Maybe all those special people you love who can’t be with you this holiday season are still right there watching you open presents, sing at church; close enough to smell the sugar cookies that just came out of the oven.
And of course, there’s my main man and hero Charlie Brown. Call him a loser all you want, but I think there’s a little Charlie Brown in all of us and, to this day, watching his Christmas special truly makes me feel good about our world.
Produced in 1965, A Charlie Brown Christmas offers up the following message to our children—the holidays are entirely too commercial, people are greedy when they should be helping others and sisters are a pain in the butt. True then, doubly true today!
I love the fact that Charlie Brown goes for the ugliest tree on the lot. I am right there with him as he wanders around his town and wonders aloud if anyone truly knows the meaning of Christmas. Even if you don’t subscribe to the religious message at the end, you can’t disagree with Linus’ hope for peace and love in a troubled world.
I wonder a lot of things this time of year. Some silly things like, “What exactly is the NOG in Eggnog?” Or, “If I carefully wrap up my Christmas lights on December 26th why are they always in a big ball when I take them out 11 months later?” Oh, and “When carolers go Awassailing, what exactly is that anyway?” I wonder why, when there are a million nice gifts a woman would want for Christmas, some men buy cured meat from Hickory Farms. I mean honestly guys, when have you ever seen a woman unwrap a gift and scream, “Sausage links! Oh honey, how did you know?”
I do love this time of year, but as you grow older, you realize that holidays are a double-edged sword and all that joy you experienced as a childbecomes bittersweet memories with time. And you know what? That’s okay, because you wouldn’t go back and trade a single one if it meant being spared a little tug on the heart today. I miss my mom, dad, grandparents and my first dog, Shep. I can see us all coming home from Christmas Eve Mass and opening gifts from one another. Even the dog got his own stocking, bless him. They were the happiest times of my life, but isn’t that true for all of us? Perhaps that’s why God gives us children and grandchildren, so we can pass on the traditions and love.
One of those traditions, at least in my house, involves three characters named Rudolph, Frosty and Charlie and the lessons they teach. Be tolerant of those who are different, believe in magic and don’t let the folks at Mastercard & Visa give you the wrong idea of what this season is really all about.
If you have family with you this holiday, love them. If they are only with you in memories, cherish them. And if you have lost your Christmas spirit, might I suggest you go to the home of anyone who has a four-year old and watch their eyes when they come down the stairs to see what’s waiting beneath the tree. Like a fresh snowfall, it is pure and perfect.And ifthe scene seems familiar, that’s because it should. After all,once upon a time, that was you.
John Gray is a Fox23 News anchor and contributing writer at the Troy Record. He can be reached at email@example.com