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Down the Road

Christmas, its reality
By Milton M. Gross
Dec 23, 2012 - 12:52:21 AM

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A day a so ago, I donned my winter parka and went down to the corner of the woods at the edge of our yard.

I cut down our Christmas tree, which took about five minutes, dragged it onto the porch, and then brought it into the house.

It is small by past standards, and it has a space along one side of the trunk with no imperfect tree.

We hated to kill another spruce for our "Christian" tradition of celebrating the birth of the Savior. But the Christmas tree tradition is strong in our house -- and in the entire U.S.

It's kind of interesting how the Christmas tree began as a pagan tradition to help celebrate the shortest -- and most depressing due to the long hours of darkness -- day of the year, and the Roman Catholic Church dragged this day and tree into the Christian calendar.

When was the Baby Jesus born? Probably not this time of year, I read from those who know -- although how they know I have no idea.

But our imperfect tree is now lit, decorated, and has some presents under it.

Do those presents represent the gifts the three wise men brought to the Baby Jesus a couple of years after He was born? Or do they represent an American tradition of either giving or getting, depending from which side you view it all? The tradition of spend, spend, spend and keep the American corporations showing a profit.

My most beloved childhood Christmas memories center around a huge, brightly lit and over-decorated spruce under which the presents were piled.

We helped Santa a good bit, because we all rode the local train into the center of Philadelphia and dragged block after block to store after store. The packages we kids and our parents couldn't carry back to the train station and home, arrived sometime later by UPS. After the tree was decorated and we kids were tucked into bed, my parents spent who knows how long wrapping and placing gifts under the tree.

Santa, of course, got all the credit.

The Baby Jesus? Don't remember Him at all. I remember bicycles, lots of books, model trains for my brother, clothes, and many toys.

The Baby Jesus? Not in our fine "Christian" home. We even hated the idea of having to walk the nearly a mile to a church service, sometime around but definitely not on Christmas. Who'd want to spoil Christmas by going to church?

Later, as a young father, we still dragged around various stores here in Maine to buy those last-minute gifts for our two, then three, and finally four bread snappers. It was always last minute, because we had little money, and we had to wait for my parents -- not Santa -- to mail us a check at the last minute before we could charge into the malls.

As a minister, I still hated church services near Christmas, even though I was the one who conducted them. I wonder how many in our faithful congregations actually wanted to come to those services.

We either bought or cut our trees, and once while I was teaching after having left the ministry, some eighth-graders cut us a huge spruce. Once in the house, it smelled like cat....well, you know what cat spruces smell like. Those eighth-graders had cut the wrong kind of tree.

Guess their teacher forgot to teach them about cat spruce.

But it was a gift, and we accepted it, and after a few days the non-Christmasy odor kind of disappeared.

I'll always remember that Christmas tree. It was a gift -- from those poor kids who suffered through my teaching. Funny how important that gift has remained in my memory after all these years.

Christmas definitely seems to be about things, primarily things money can buy.

But wait. Yesterday, while driving my bus, I passed many people who did not appear to have money. Indeed, they seemed to be poor -- very poor, and very unhappy. They wore old clothes, nondescript, possibly described as rags, they shuffled along or they waited on street corners for....a bus?...a friend? to happen for them?

For Christmas? It seemed to me that Christmas was beyond their means. Christmas, I would guess, for them meant more poverty as well as depression -- depression because they weren't in the "mainstream" of Americans, who could afford Christmas.

Christmas when you're supposed to spend, spend, spend and keep the American corporations profitable.

Our smallish Christmas tree stands in a corner of our living room, a few gifts under it...from others. I bought Dolores one gift, also smallish and not expensive.

We don't plan to go to a church service related to Christmas. We don't plan to go out to eat, partly because we don't know of any area restaurants that would warrant our spending our money in them. Partly because for us Christmas seems to want us to stay home and enjoy each other, the kitties, and the smallish Christmas tree.

What does our Christmas have to do with the birth of the Savior? Very little, except that we're aware of that birth, His life, His teachings, what He did for us on that very cruel cross -- reserved for the worst of convicts.

Christmas? For us it's a time to be quiet, to contemplate things, and be with each other.

Our smallish, imperfect Christmas tree resides in a corner of our living room -- reminding us of our own peace and happiness in an imperfect world. Milt Gross photo.

Merry thoughtful Christmas.

Milt Gross can be reached for corrections, harassment, or other purposes at

Milton M. Gross Copyright 2012

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